Gang members who stripped lead from church roofs - including one in Dorset - have been jailed for a combined total of more than 20 years.

The four men targeted 36 churches across England - including St Martin's Church in Cheselbourne near Dorchester, leaving an estimated £60,000 repair bill - and costing churches around the country a total of £2.1million.

The rocked the quiet village of Cheselbourne when the gang struck in in March 2020 during the start of the pandemic.

The night-time attacks also took place in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Suffolk, Leicestershire and Derbyshire - stripping tonnes of lead from Grade I and Grade II listed churches between May 2018 and March 2020.

The four men, who had previously pleaded guilty to the offences, were sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court on Wednesday.

Constantin Motescu, 32, of Stebbings, Sutton Hill, Telford, admitted 23 charges of theft and was jailed for six and a half years, Paul Buica, 25, of George Street, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to 16 thefts and was sent down for six years; Laurentiu Sucea, 38, of George Street, Birmingham, admitted 13 thefts and was imprisoned for six and a half years, and Mihai Birtu, 24, of Port Street, Evesham, admitted 14 thefts and received three years and seven months.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Shield, of Lincolnshire Police, who led the investigation, said: “Working in partnership with other forces and agencies including the Diocese of Lincoln and Historic England, our dedicated Op History team have worked tirelessly to ensure justice is served.

“Some of the church congregations are still struggling to find the funds to repair the damage and restore their significant historical buildings which means so much to them as well as the local communities they serve.

“The vast majority of these churches will have had insurance in place, but the insurance only covers a small part of the costs so congregations have been left to foot the remainder of the bill.

"The impact of these offences goes well beyond the significant financial cost. Communities have felt a great sense of loss at the damage caused to their heritage, and increased vulnerability due to the rural nature of many of the premises.

“It is still unclear what these defendants spent the money they gained from these thefts on and investigations into this is still ongoing.

“Some of the buildings are thousands of years old so these men have potentially destroyed hundreds of years of our heritage.”

A Proceeds of Crime hearing will be held at a later date to try to recover some of the gang's ill-gotten gains.

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Dorset Police hand out more than 1,000 Covid fines over course of pandemic


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Covid: Dorset Police hand out 1,010 fines

By Ben Williets  @BenW_DailyEchoReporter

Dorset Police hand out more than 1,000 Covid fines over course of pandemic


MORE than 1,000 fines have been issued by Dorset Police to people breaching Covid regulations since March.

Data published by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) on Friday shows a total of 32,329 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued by forces in England and Wales between March 27 and December 21 last year.

The most recent weekly figures showed 542 tickets were handed out in the week to December 17, compared with 821 in the previous seven days.

For face coverings, the NPCC figures showed a total of 958 fines were issued between June 15 and December 20, including 199 on public transport, an average of seven a week.

And Dorset Police has handed out 1,010 fines to people breaching the regulations.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: “Officers have been out in the community throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and have continued to take a sensible approach when dealing with reported breaches of the restrictions.

“Our officers, including our dedicated Covid-19 patrol officers, will continue to use a four Es approach of escalation, where they will engage, explain and encourage people to follow the regulations.

“Where this is not effective, then enforcement action will be taken when reasonable, proportionate and in line with Covid-19 regulations.

“Everyone has a social responsibility to stick within the rules and we would ask that people follow them to help keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus.”

  • We've launched a new Facebook group for crime and court news from Dorset. We'll bring you updates on cases we attend, sentences handed down, appeals from police, what's happening in your community and much more.​ To find out more and to join the group, click here.