Northampton church closed after theft of three tonnes of roof tiles
A Northampton congregation will have to travel to another parish to attend services after a series of thefts caused a collapsed ceiling in their church and Â£50,000 worth of damage.
St Andrew's Church in Great Billing has been targeted three times in five weeks, with about a tonne of lead roof tiles taken each time.
On the second occasion - overnight on Wednesday, September 20 - not only did the thieves take the tiles, they also stole a lead drainpipe from the church tower.
It meant that, when Rev Richard Burbidge responded through the heavy rain to the church's burglar alarm sounding, it was not thieves he found when he opened the doors but a waterfall gushing through a newly formed hole.
He said: "It was the first we knew about that theft. The water was literally pouring through the ceiling.
"The rain was just coming off the tower and, without the drainpipe and tiles, was just hitting the exposed wooden beams in the roof."
Not content with their destruction, the thieves returned again the next evening and stripped more lead from the roof. Mr Burbidge was only alerted to this theft when a dog walker found a church wheelie bin full of lead in undergrowth to the side of a field.
Combined with the initial theft on August 17, about £50,000 worth of damage has been caused to St Andrew's in five weeks, with the church's insurance company unlikely to cover much of the cost.
Mr Burbidge said: "It's outrageous what they've done.
"But we want to be Christian about this and be kind and charitable.
"In an ideal world they will see the error of their ways and bring it back, but we know that is unlikely."
The tiles are already marked with Smartwater but further raids are unlikely now given that a sophisticated security system is in place, which takes photos of anyone climbing onto the church roof then alerts security guards.
As a result of the hole in the ceiling, the church has been closed since Sunday, September 23 and will remain so until temporary repairs can be carried out.
In the meantime, parishioners will have to make the journey to All Saints Church in Little Billing in order to worship.
The process will be repeated again before the end of the year as St Andrew's will have to close again for longer-term repairs in the coming months.
A fund-raising campaign will be launched soon on the St Andrew's website: www.billing,church with cheques welcomed until a Justgiving page can be set up.
Mr Burbidge said: "I hope people will take a look at the website to find out what they can do. The more people who see it, the easier it will be."
Anyone with information about the thefts is asked to call Northamptonshire Police on 101. Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.