POLICE are hunting thieves who launched a devastating attack on an historic Wigan church.
Scrap hawkers, possibly posing as legitimate tradesmen, ripped away hundreds of feet of lead flashing.
Because of the huge weight of the metal and its location, officials believe a team of men may have been involved in the raid at Pemberton’s Church of St John the Divine.
The thieves would also have needed extensive laddering to have reached the lead flashing at the Grade II listed, 180-year-old Gothic revival structure.
And they may have needed a van or flat-back lorry to haul the lead away.
It is believed that the thieves struck between Monday and Tuesday but it is also thought the thieves may have returned at the height of the storm on Wednesday to attempt a further raid.
Now the angry vicar of St John’s, Rev Philip Anderson, fears that he is going to have to ask the congregation to “dig very deep” over the coming year to fund proper repairs.
Police are continuing investigations, including house-to-house inquiries.
The church has confirmed in future lead flashing won’t be used for repairs.
The Rev Anderson said: “This is pretty callous but God is good, the church will survive this and remain the spiritual heart of Pemberton.
“Fortunately a couple of members of the congregation spotted the damage on Tuesday morning so we had enough time before the storms hit to ask some builders to temporarily patch things up until we decide on what the correct next steps should be.
“It is the lead flashing along the entire guttering along the northern side of the church.
“Sadly we are talking about quite a long length, I suppose a couple of hundred feet of lead in total, and the cost for repairs and reinstatement is going to be quite significant.
“The church isn’t really that close to any houses, and the fact that the theft was from the gutting at the back of the church, we don’t yet know if anybody saw anything unusual.
“St John’s has had some problems in the past with vandalism in the churchyard but nothing on this scale.
“We are a bit surprised because it is a very long way up and it is going to be quite difficult to get up.
“Because it is endemic the insurance will only cover a certain percentage of the damage and loss so this will result in the church and the congregation having to try and make up the shortfall.”
Sky high scrap prices have contributed to an upsurge in metal thefts in recent years and a commensurate response from the police, particularly locally with their ongoing campaign Operation Alloy.
Many buildings such as churches and schools which have fallen prey to lead thefts have since replaced the metal flashing with a synthetic sealant which is equally effective but of no value to scavengers.
Anybody able to help with a cash donation should contact him on 01942 375209.