THE Anglican church is fighting back against the growing scourge of thieves stripping lead from places of worship.

The Ripon diocese, in North Yorkshire, is heading a campaign to fit roof alarms to churches most at risk.

Last year was the worst on record for insurance claims for metal thefts from churches nationwide, with 50 claims totalling £60,000 for the Ripon diocese.

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The neighbouring York diocese had 60 claims that totalled more than £150,000, while Durham diocese had nearly 70 claims that totalled nearly £100,000.

Church and heritage insurer Ecclesiastical is investing £500,000 to install roof alarms free on some of the most atrisk churches. Ripon is one of three dioceses at the forefront of the project.

Because the alarm sensors are hard to detect from the ground, criminals will be unable to tell which churches are alarmed and which are not.

However, precise details of the alarms and their locations are not being revealed, although churches will display signs warning criminals of the presence of roof alarms.

John Coates, from Ecclesiastical, said the initiative would make places of worship harder targets for criminals out to “strip the nation’s heritage”.

He said: “Our aim is to encourage all vulnerable churches across Britain to have roof alarms fitted.”

The campaign is backed by the Church of England, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Government.

Ecclesiastical has already piloted the use of roof alarms in more than 150 churches over the past few years.

Where fitted, metal thefts have reduced significantly or stopped.

Last year, Ecclesiastical, which insures 97 per cent of the country’s Anglican churches, received more than 2,600 metal theft claims from churches nationally.

In addition to roof alarms, Ecclesiastical is also providing churches with free Smart- Water forensic marker liquid, which is applied to the metal so it can be traced.