CHURCHES in Dorset are becoming a crime hotspot with 31 cases of violence against people and more than two crimes per week being recorded at places of worship over the past two years.

Figures released by Dorset Police show that churches in and around the county are not only being targeted for their roofing lead, of which there were 10 recorded cases, but that there were also over 97 ‘general’ thefts in the past three years.

In all, there were 229 crimes recorded against churches in two years from 2017.

Churches in the county have been subject to 91 counts of criminal damage since 2017.

Last summer Mihaita Rosca, 26, was jailed for two years at Exeter Crown court for 13 burglaries in Devon and Dorset churches.

The court heard that he would break stained glass windows with rocks before stealing money from collections and charity boxes.

In 2017 a Home Office review found a 75 per cent decrease in metal theft since tighter controls were introduced in 2013, but the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill, said: “The regulations might have deterred petty thieves, but they haven’t stopped the organised criminals who are now doing this in some parts of the country on a much larger scale.

“We need a major rethink of how we are going to tackle it, with new approaches and perhaps even new legislation.”

The ecclesiastical crime wave is not confined to Dorset. In the past two years neighbouring Wiltshire saw 107 total crimes reported while Devon and Cornwall saw 669 reported crimes, including 193 cases of criminal damage.

Across the UK, 19, 493 crimes have been committed at churches and religious buildings, after 40 of 45 UK police forces responded to the FOI request from the Countryside Alliance.

The campaign group launched an investigation after receiving several complaints from the Countryside Alliance from members who were concerned that nothing was being done to raise awareness of lead theft in rural areas. the organisation described the figures as ‘a bleak picture’.

Speaking to Premier Christian radio about the national figures, which translate to a crime every 70 minutes, The Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark said: “While these things are undoubtedly very damaging, very harmful when they happen to individual communities, we’re still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities.”

“We’re trying to work with the police on different initiatives to deal with some of the most widely presenting issues. However, fundamentally, churches are places where people should be able to come in all states, they should be able to come and feel safe. We want to make sure that those churches feel that they can stay open.”

Dorset Police said: “The rise in value and the increase in demand for these (antique and valuable) items have made church property a target.

“Whatever you do, do not adopt the attitude ‘it will never happen to us.’ The criminal may not come from your community, he may come from the other end of the country.”