Churches put on high alert after string of raids in the Horsham area

The Rev Dr Mark Betson, vicar of St Jhon's Church, Coolhurst
The Rev Dr Mark Betson, vicar of St Jhon's Church, Coolhurst

Churches in and around Horsham are being warned to be on the alert following a string of raids by thieves.

Sussex Police are urging clergymen and churchgoers to be on their guard. Police say they fear that more churches could be targeted.

Last week officials at St Saviour’s Church in Colgate revealed that thieves caused thousands of pounds worth of damage when they stripped lead from the building’s roof.

And this week it has been revealed that yet more thousands of pounds worth of damage has been caused in a separate raid on St John’s Church, Coolhurst, off Hammerpond Road near Horsham Rugby Club.

St Peter’s Church in Slinfold has also been targeted, along with a priest’s house next to St Nicholas Church in Itchingfield.

Vicar of St John’s, the Rev Dr Mark Betson, estimates that around £3,000 worth of damage was caused during the attack on St John’s. “The lead has been marked with ‘smart water’ and, with new regulations governing scrap yards, it’s going to be very difficult to get rid of it,” he said. “I really just don’t see the value in trying to take lead from the roofs. It’s not really worth the effort these days.”

Last week, St Saviour’s Church in Colgate revealed it had been targeted for the second time with lead being ripped from the roof.

Police say they have had multiple reports of lead thefts from churches since October 1. As well as the Horsham churches, three others in Mid Sussex have been raided. They are Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield and St Mary Magdalen’s Church in the Haywards Heath area and All Saints, Bolney. St Bartholomew’s Church in Egdean has also been hit.

In a joint message to clergymen this week, diocesan officials and Sussex Police said: “We are very concerned that more churches may be targeted.”

They are now urging people to be vigilant and are encouraging churchgoers to report any suspicious activity.

Sussex heritage crime officer Daryl Holter said: “Most of the churches who have fallen victim to this crime are listed buildings and the consequences of such criminality can be significant.”

He said police were working closely with the Diocese of Chichester and Ecclesiastical Insurance.

Anyone with any information can call 101 quoting reference 273 of 01/10 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Thieves strip lead from church