A PRIEST has told of his “frustration and annoyance” after thieves stole half a tonne of lead from one of Teesside’s most important buildings.

The lead was taken from the roof at the Grade I-listed Stockton Parish Church at about 11.30pm on Friday.

The Revd Mark Miller explained that it will cost about £20,000 to put the damage right but the lead was only worth about £500 to the thieves.

Fortunately the 304-year-old building was insured but the Revd Miller, 46, explained that the insurance premiums would double and the church would still be left with a bill of thousands of pounds to improve security.

He said: “It’s annoying, it’s appalling and it’s frustrating. We don’t know exactly how they did it, but it looks like they shinned up the drain pipes. How they transported half a tonne of lead I don’t know. We have two pubs nearby and the police station is only 50m away but they chose a time when CCTV and the police were focussed on the night time economy. It was someone in one of the pubs who noticed there was some activity on the roof and called the police. It’s going to take about three weeks to get it put right.”

The Revd Miller, originally of Middleton-St-George near Darlington, explained that the theft was a distraction and financial drain on vital work conducted by the church.

He said: “We’re the eighth most deprived parish out 13,000 Church of England parishes in the country. About 90 per cent of our parishioners get some kind of help from the state. We neighbour a ward which has the worst average death rate for men in the country. So there’s really difficult circumstances and we’re having to divert money and attention on to a building. If the people that did this are that desperate I’d much rather they came to talk to me. I’d welcome it. We would see what we could do to help.”

Stockton Parish Church is one of only two Grade I buildings in the town, the other being the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. It is the oldest building on or just off the High Street, pre-dating Stockton Town Hall by about 20 years.

A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police issued an appeal for information.