THE REVEREND of a historic Dorset church targeted by an organised gang that stripped lead from the roof has responded to the news that the culprits have been jailed.

A massive fundraising effort to cover the cost of the damage St Martin's church in the tranquil village of Cheselbourne near Dorchester.

Bournemouth Echo:

Four men were jailed for a combined total of more than 20 years after causing over £2m worth of damage to churches around the country - including £60,000 of damage at the 13th century church.

Bournemouth Echo:

That theft helped bring their two-year crime spree to a halt and contributed to the offenders being brought to justice because the lead roof St Martin's had been watermarked.

However, with the gang now behind bars, the grade I-listed church must still raise the funds to pay for repairs to the roof.

Father Roger Butcher, reverend of St Martin's, said: "The lead stolen from our church helped to convict (the culprits) as it was covered with smartwater - an indelible unique security marker specific to our church.

"Obviously we are pleased that the perpetrators have been convicted, but we still have the enormous challenge of raising funds.

"Our insurance paid out £6,000, therefore we will need to seek funding from various organisations that are sympathetic to lead theft from ecclesiastical buildings. The current estimate is £60,000."

Bournemouth Echo: Father Roger Butcher explained that the lead had been watermarkedFather Roger Butcher explained that the lead had been watermarked

The four men, who had previously pleaded guilty to the offences, were sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court on Wednesday (January 6.)

They also stole lead from churches during night-time attacks in 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.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “The outcome of this case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between the police, Crown Prosecution Service, church communities and Historic England and is an approach we shall continue to use when dealing with metal theft.

“The theft of metal from historic church buildings is a serious and organised crime.

"Removing large areas of lead or copper from roofs has not just a serious financial effect on church communities but a huge effect on their morale.”

Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy for Historic England, said: “The metal stolen will have historic and cultural value and its removal leads to irreparable damage to protected heritage buildings, which is why tackling this problem is so important.”

To donate to the St Martin's Church fund, you can send a cheque made out to 'Cheselbourne PCC' to The Vicarage, Church Lane, Piddletrenthide, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7QY or email