Police pledge over church scavengers

Lead ripped from the roof of St Thomas's Church, Bedford, Leigh
Lead ripped from the roof of St Thomas's Church, Bedford, Leigh

POLICE have pledged to crack down further on scrap metal scavengers after a church attack left parishioners with a massive organ repair bill.

As Bedford St Thomas’s in Leigh comes to terms with one of the biggest crises in its history, officers are on the trail of the callous thieves who inflicted the destruction.

Parish priest Rev Robert Dixon believes that the raiders paid several trips to the Chapel Street building during August, to rip lead flashing from the roof.

That, and the damage to a ceiling underneath meant that recent heavy rainfall poured down into the workings of the famous Harrison and Harrison instrument. As so often happens in such circumstances, days or even perhaps weeks went by before the theft was noticed, during which time horrendous damage was done to the organ’s complex workings.

The church is as insured as much as it can be, but recent changes to policies mean that there is a £5,000 maximum pay-out: a fraction of the predicted £125,000 to £200,000 restoration bill.

Rev Dixon said today that he had heard that the church was one of several which have been attacked in quick succession across the North of England. And yet, in spite of all this, the thieves will only make a “pittance” compared with the cost of the damage.

And police today vowed to track down not only those who steal scrap metal, but also those who dispose of it.

Only recently several raids were carried out at Pemberton and Atherton scrap yards in which thousands of pounds of suspected stolen metal were recovered.

And Supt Bob Lomas of Wigan Police said: “Metal theft is one of our top priorities, and we will continue to visit premises across the borough to ensure they are complying with regulations concerning the buying and selling of scrap metal.”

Rev Dixon said: “We are desperately sad about what has happened. To look at the organ doesn’t appear any different, but it was when it came to playing it that it just emitted this horrible groan.

“It was then that we realised that something was seriously wrong.”

The church is currently planning a restoration appeal and hoping that grants can be attracted, but with money scarce and much Lottery cash going to the Olympics, Rev Dixon is not overly optimistic.