One of Yorkshire's most senior members of the clergy is warning of a new threat to churches from organised crime groups as figures released to The Yorkshire Post show the devastating extent of crimes committed against the region's religious establishments.
The Bishop of Ripon, The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley has also called for greater strategic partnerships to protect the religious buildings as Yorkshire's churches are bearing the brunt of thousands of crimes every year with lead thefts, criminal damage and violence the most common offences.
Bishop Helen-Ann said: "Church buildings are in vulnerable positions because of their visibility and general openness. That is the risk of having buildings that remain open to and accessible to all, but I do not want that to change.
"Our biggest concerns are around organised crime which comes with the threat of violence and I believe that this has seen the biggest increase.
"Criminal gangs are in a different league and something we all need to be aware of, while maintaining the openness of the churches to people.
"It is disappointing and demoralising when any crime is committed on a church. A lot of the communities effected are quite small and people work really hard to keep the wheels turning and doors open.
"They do not receive any central or state funding so when things like lead are chopped off the roof it can really be demoralising for those involved with the church.
"There needs to be a greater strategic response and churches need to form good links with the police and make sure they take the necessary precautions including the installation of alarms and the use of clearwater."
Since 2017 there has been 2,532 crimes on churches across Yorkshire recorded by the four police forces. Of the 2,532 offences, 101 were lead thefts, 517 were general thefts, 429 criminal damage and 272 violent offences.
Yorkshire's largest police force - West Yorkshire Police - recorded 1,199 crimes at churches and religious buildings since the start of 2017. This included 20 cases of lead theft; 242 cases of general theft; 275 cases of criminal damage and 170 cases of violence. There were also eight cases of rape, 23 cases of sexual offences and three cases of trafficking-controlled drugs.
South Yorkshire Police recorded 757 crimes for the same time period. This included eight cases of metal theft and 82 cases of general theft. Of the total, 45 cases relate to criminal damage, while there are 37 cases of violence against a person.
Humberside Police reported 371 crimes including 46 cases of lead theft, 94 general thefts, 136 criminal damage offences and 49 reports of violence.
North Yorkshire had 205 crimes recorded against churches including 17 cases of lead theft, 99 general thefts, 73 criminal damage and reports and 16 violent offences.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher from the Countryside Alliance said: “These figures make for extremely distressing reading and paint a bleak picture. What’s worse, is that there are likely many, many more incidents like these recorded but that haven’t been disclosed to us. As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.
"These figures serve as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote. 20,000 new police officers pledged by the government is a good sign, but we need to ensure officers are being sent to rural and remote locations.”