A criminal gang involved in the theft of around 70 tonnes of lead from 20 East Midlands churches including St Peter’s at Thorpe St Peter has been sentenced.
The convictions have been celebrated as ‘the biggest success in the fight against heritage crime in Britain’, having ended a spree of night time raids, which caused an estimated £1 million in damage.
DI Keith Blakey said: “This is a fantastic result for the people of Lincolnshire and it has demonstrated the effectiveness of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Brompton, which was launched to tackle metal theft in the county.
“These thieves targeted some of the most important heritage sites in the heart of our rural communities, causing huge amounts of damage to religious buildings and leading to a great deal of upset among congregations.
“We hope today’s outcome sends a clear message to criminals across the East Midlands and the rest of the country - if you attempt to operate in Lincolnshire, you will be put before the courts.”
Five of the six defendants were arrested by Lincolnshire Police on August 25 after being caught with lead.
Two of the offenders were caught again the following month trying to weigh in more stolen lead at a scrap yard while on bail.
The rest of the gang were identified through mobile phone records, scrap metal records and scientific evidence including ‘smart water’ from the metal and DNA from a cigarette butt left on one of the church roofs.
The gang are thought to have sold the stolen lead for £70,000 although the damage caused was more than 10 times that amount.
Prosecutor Simon Rowe said: “This is one of the biggest conspiracies to steal lead from he church roofs we have prosecuted in the East Midlands.
“Some people may think that just because churches are buildings, stealing from them somehow does not leave a victim behind - nothing could be further from the truth.
“These are places of cultural, historic, religious, and to many people, personal importance, cared for over centuries by dedicated members of heir community.
“Despite this, this group targeted these churches, using blunt force to rip the lead from the roofs and throwing it to the ground, damaging the fabric of ancient buildings, monuments and gravestones and exposing the interiors to the elements.
“The CPS takes these crimes particularly serious because in many cases the lead is irreplaceable.
“modern roofing materials are not as effective and are out of keeping, and insurance rarely covers the full cost, which is not always possible to meet.
“Thefts of this nature leave small communities devastated that their historic church has been desecrated.
“These six individuals have shown a callous disregard for the communities they have robbed and the damage they have done.
Vidas Andruska was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to steal and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Andrius Cereska, Tadas Andruska and Audrius Kvedaras were each sentenced to four years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal.
Nerijus Ramza was found not guilty of conspiracy to steal but pleaded guilt to theft and was sentenced to 22 months.
Vitalijus Vilkys was sentenced to six months, suspended for two years and 180 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to handling stolen goods.