Thieves steal Houghton Conquest church's lead roof

image copyrightGary Mudd
image captionPlastic sheeting has now been placed on the roof by builders to protect it from the elements

"Audacious" thieves have stolen an entire lead roof from a Grade I-listed church.

About 20 tonnes of lead was taken from All Saint's Church, Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, over "a prolonged period of time", police said.

The theft was discovered on Tuesday and police believe the thieves posed as tradesmen to gain access to the roof.

The church said the insurance would not cover all the repair costs - expected to reach tens of thousands of pounds.

Treasurer Joyce Bullock said: "I don't know how we are going to pay for it," adding: "I just pray every day that nothing else happens."

image copyrightGary Mudd
image captionAll Saint's Church in the village of Houghton Conquest dates from the 14th Century

The theft was uncovered on Tuesday when daylight could be seen through the ceiling and rubble was found on the ground.

Sarah Hannant, a member of the congregation, said: "This is devastating; it has caused a lot of stress. We don't have enough volunteers as it is, it just takes the wind out of your sails."

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Churchwarden Margaret Tyler said the theft was "heartbreaking" but a wedding and their harvest festival service were still going ahead this weekend.

Gary Mudd, who lives in the village, said: "I feel stunned; the morals of the thieves are appalling."

image copyrightGary Mudd
image captionThieves also damaged pillars and stonework on the Grade I-listed church
image copyrightGary Mudd
image captionThe church also needs a new boiler and vestry roof

Insp Nick Masters said: "We suspect the people responsible may have been going backwards and forwards to the church for a prolonged period of time."

He believes the thieves posed as tradesmen and drove trucks or vans, so they could transport scaffolding or ladders to the site to gain access to the roof.

"This is an audacious incident and we're exploring a number of lines of inquiry to find out how this happened. Clearly this is unacceptable," he said.

image copyrightGarry Mudd
image captionAbout 20 tonnes of lead was stolen from the church roof

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