Britain’s most prolific church lead theft gang – which struck at four churches in the Boston area – were jailed for 20 years after causing £1m damage.
The gang struck at 20 churches across the East Midlands including St Mary’s at Sutterton (pictured), St Peter and St Paul at Algakirk, St Peter and St Paul at Gosberton and St Leodegar’s at Wyberton.
The gang, all from Lithuania, netted almost £70,000 from selling the stolen lead during a nine month period in 2011.
On Thursday, Lincoln Crown Court was told how police believe they were the main reason for the high number of church thefts in Lincolnshire during 2011 when 186 religious buildings were hit. Since their arrest there have been just 19 church lead thefts so far in 2012.
Stephen Lowne, prosecuting, said the crime became so common that the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, which provides church insurance, restricted claims to £5,000 per church, allowing only one claim per year.
Andrius Cereska, 30, of Laceby Street, Lincoln; Audrius Kvedavas, 30, of Maple Street, Lincoln, and Tadas Andruska, 36, of Roman Pavement, Lincoln, all admitted conspiring to steal lead belonging to the the Church of England between January and September 2011 and were each jailed for four years.
Vidas Andruska, 34, of Roman Pavement, Lincoln, was found guilty of the same charge after a trial and was jailed for seven years.
Vitalijus Vilkys, 27, of Nelson Street, Lincoln, admitted handling stolen lead and was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for two years and 180 hours’ community punishment.
Nerijus Razma, 23, of Manby Street, Lincoln, pleaded guilty to a single theft charge and was jailed for 22 months.
Passing sentence Judge Michael Heath revealed the total costs to the 20 churches was in the region of £1million.
Judge Heath said: “It is a great deal of money, it is very important and should not be underestimated the distress felt by Christians at the desescration of their scared places of divine worship.
“You lot could not care less about those feelings. All you were interested in was stealing lead, weighing it in, and making money.”
He said the sentences were meant to ‘punish and deter’.