April 28, 2023 8.08 pm This story is over 14 months old

Man sentenced over gang’s lead theft from Lincolnshire churches

The value of the aggregate damage caused was £1.25m

A 26-year-old man has been given a two month community order for his involvement in lead theft from churches across the region and other areas.

Madalin Gabriel Prundaru, from Redbridge Lane East, Ilford, was found guilty of 18 lead theft charges at Lincoln Crown Court after a jury returned a guilty verdict last month.

He appeared at Lincoln Crown Court today, Friday, where the judge gave him the community order.

He was part of a group of three in which two others have been previously jailed. This operation was called Operation Dastardly and was led by Lincolnshire Police.

  • Gigi Prundaru previously admitted 31 offences and was sentenced to a total of 6 years 1 month imprisonment
  • Laurentiu Rebeca admitted 24 offences and was sentenced to 4 years 10 months imprisonment

All the offences took place during a spate of attacks by groups of men on churches between May and August, 2016.

A thorough and complex investigation then followed, led by Lincolnshire Police, which resulted in the group being charged with a total of 47 offences that took place across the country.

The value of the aggregate damage caused was £1.25 million.

In total the group were charged with 100 thefts/attempted thefts from 40 different churches, and, of these, 73 offences resulted in conviction. The other offences were allowed by the court to be laid on file.

The conclusion of the case was delayed initially due to the European Arrest Warrant process and then latterly delays awaiting trial due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated backlog of cases arising from the pandemic, and barrister strikes.

Reporting restrictions were put in place which meant we were unable to release any details until the last defendant, Prandaru, appeared at court for trial.

He was part of a group who have been dealt with previously, and this is the first time we have been able to publish this information due to the reporting restrictions.

St Andrew’s Church, Witham on the Hill, Stamford, had lead stolen which caused £150,000 worth of damage. | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

Investigating officer Dc Andrew Woodcock of Lincolnshire Police said: “This was a painstaking enquiry into large scale organised criminality. Offences were identified through detailed investigation, piecing together mobile phone communications data, and ANPR evidence of vehicles linked to the defendants.

“It was identified that the defendants would travel back to London and weigh the lead in for a fraction of its true value.

“Nevertheless, they benefitted to around £70,000 from the offences but caused significant distress to the local communities of the churches they targeted. Some of these churches, four years later, are still completing repairs.

“Although the investigation was led by Lincolnshire work was undertaken by a number of police forces and specialist forensic personnel. I thank those who assisted in the investigation which involved thousands of documents and a significant amount of technical data.”

Historic England Chief Executive Duncan Wilson said: “The outcome of this case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, church communities and Historic England, and is an approach we shall continue to use when dealing with metal theft.

“The theft of metal from historic church buildings is a serious and organised crime.

“Removing large areas of lead or copper from roofs has not just a significant financial effect on church communities but a huge effect on their morale.”

St Deny’s Church in Sleaford had its lead stripped. | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England, said: “The theft of metal from historic church buildings is a serious and organised crime. Removing large areas of lead or copper from roofs has a significant emotional and financial impact on those communities who care for and maintain our historic church buildings.

“This form of criminal behaviour can result in irreversible loss and damage, which is why tackling this problem is so important.

“The outcome of this case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between the Police, Crown Prosecution Service, Historic England and members of church communities from across the country. We will continue to work in partnership when dealing with metal theft.”

St Mary’s Church, Souldren. | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones said: “This is nationally significant tremendous work by Lincolnshire Police and the crown prosecution service and sends a very clear message to thieves who target our much-loved heritage sites.

“Never have our churches and our heritage been under such attack since the Vikings and those who mistakenly believed they would be easy pickings have been held to account.

“To those who might look to carry out similar crimes in the future the message is clear – the police will pursue you until you are caught, and justice is done.”

Churches targeted in Lincolnshire included St Nicholas Church in Walcot, which fell victim to thieves twice in late August 2016, St Botolph’s in Newton and The Church of St Denys in Kirkby la Thorpe, along with St Andrew’s Church at Witham on the Hill.

Eleven other churches across the Midlands fell victim to lead thefts.

They included:

  • two churches in Oxfordshire, and St Nicholas Church in Fyfield, Wiltshire.
  • two churches in Northamptonshire were also targeted, St Margaret’s Church at Luddington, which was struck twice, and St Andrew’s Church at Cotterstock.
  • two churches in Rutland, including St Mary’s at Manton and St Edmund’s at Egleton.
  • four churches in Leicestershire. They included St Mary’s at Wyfordby, St Mary’s at Garthorpe, All Saints Church in Beeby and St Peter and Paul’s Church at Sywell which was struck twice.

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