THIEVES have stolen lead from the roof of Whitchurch Canonicorum church in another raid in west Dorset.

Parishioners only discovered the theft when they found the roof leaking in the rain.

St Candida and the Holy Cross church warden Sue Holmes said it was a ‘really nasty thing to do’ and had really upset parishioners.

She said: “Everyone is very upset saying how could they steal from church it is just so the wrong thing to do. I was really, really upset when they told me and said I’d rather they’d stolen my own roof.”

When she realised rain was coming in the church she asked her builder Neil Crabbe to look.

She said: “He saw that they had taken a quite considerable amount of lead and it looks like they were likely to come back because they had cut other sections in preparation.

“It is extremely heavy, the sheets that they took one person would have struggled to lift on their own and we think there must have been a gang involved. It was lucky it rained or we wouldn’t have realised the leak was there.” Because sheets have been pre-cut parishioners are worried the thieves will return despite the difficulty of the operation.

Mrs Holmes added: “The chances of the thieves coming back is quite high and lead is extremely valuable. The church is up a footpath. We think they carried the sheets and we don’t think they even came down the footpath.

“We think they probably went out the back of the churchyard into a field and if they crossed that they could have got on to a lane where they could possibly have parked a vehicle. I would have thought it would have taken a long time. They must have brought their own ladders because ours are locked up securely and they didn’t use any of them. They rolled up the lead and threw it off the roof.

“We know because you can see the great holes in the grass where they chucked it down. Then they would have had to carry it some distance. Even if they had gone the shortest way down the church path.”

Not only has the theft meant a long delay in getting the roof fixed it could well have done much more damage to the structure of the church said Mrs Holmes.

She added: “Taking the lead is one thing but it is the rest of the damage it does. Our church is very old and you can’t replace these old timbers once they are damaged, in a way the rest of the damage that could have occurred is worse than stealing the lead.”