Five Lithuanian men have been sentenced for a combined total of over 20 years in prison for their part in the theft of lead from churches across Lincolnshire – causing up to £1m worth of damage.
Andrius Cereska, Tadas Andruska, Audrius Kvedaras, Vidas Andruska, Nerijus Razma and sixth man Vitalijus Vilkys (who received a suspended sentence) took part in a complex operation, targeting churches and ripping lead from their roofs during night time raids, which they sold on at scrap yards.
The convictions and jail terms represent the biggest success in the fight against heritage crime in Britain to date.
• Vidas Andruska (ssentenced to seven years) was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to steal.
• Andrius Cereska (four years), Tadas Andruska (four years) and Audrius Kvedaras (four years) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal.
• Nerijus Razma (22 months) was found not guilty of conspiracy to steal but pleaded guilty to theft
• Vitalijus Vilkys (six months suspended for two years with 180 hours of unpaid work) pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods
It is estimated the men stole 70 tonnes of lead, which they sold for £70,000, but the damage they caused to the churches was more than ten times that amount.
The group were snared when Lincolnshire police stopped two suspicious vehicles on the A46 on August 25. Five of the six defendants were present, along with a quantity of stolen lead. All were arrested on suspicion of theft.
The following month, while on bail, two of the offenders were caught and arrested again while trying to weigh in more stolen lead at a local scrap yard.
‘Smart water’ on the lead in the car identified it as from a county church. The rest of the gang were identified through mobile phone records, scrap metal records, scientific evidence, including ‘smart water’ from the metal and DNA from a cigarette butt left on one of the church roofs.
‘A fantastic result’
DI Keith Blakey said: “This is a fantastic result for the people of Lincolnshire and it demonstrates the effectiveness of Lincolnshire Police’s Operation Brompton, which was launched to tackle metal theft in the county.
“These thieves targeted some of the most important heritage sites in the heart of our rural communities, causing huge amounts of damage to religious buildings and leading to a great deal of upset among congregations.
“We hope the outcome sends a clear message to criminals across the East Midlands and the rest of the country. If you attempt to operate in Lincolnshire, you will be arrested and put before the courts.”
The group were convicted of offences including conspiracy to steal, theft and handling stolen goods. Some admitted their offences and pleaded guilty, others were convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty during trial.
Churches targeted by the defendants:
St Nicholas, Fulbeck, Lincolnshire
All Saints, Holton-cum-Beckering, Lincolnshire
St Peter and St Lawrence, Wickenby, Lincolnshire
St Botolph’s, Newton, Lincolnshire
St Mary’s and All Saints, Swarby, Lincolnshire
St Nicholas, Walcot, Lincolnshire (two incidents)
St Mary’s, Sutterton, Lincolnshire
St Peter and St Paul, Algakirk, Lincolnshire
St James, Ab Kettleby, Leicestershire
All Saints, Asfordby, Leicestershire
St Nicholas, Lutton, Lincolnshire
St Peter and St Paul, Gosberton, Lincolnshire
St Margaret’s, Quadring, Lincolnshire
St Mary and All Saints, Kirkby Underwood, Lincolnshire
St Laurence, Norwell, Nottinghamshire
St Andrew’s, Asgarby, Nottinghamshire
St Leodegar’s, Wyberton, Lincolnshire
St Peter’s, Thorpe St Peter, Lincolnshire
St James, Little Dalby, Leicestershire
All Saints, Hougham, Lincolnshire