For English churches, lead thieves destroy a rich heritage

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Thieves peeled long strips of lead from the roof of St. Michael and All Angels, until a barking dog sent them fleeing from this tiny Leicestershire village. But by then, they had left a hole of about 100 square feet in the top of the 800-year-old church.

For centuries, people have stolen religious artifacts in Europe, including chunks of religious buildings, but Britain is in the midst of an accelerating crime wave that some experts call the most concerted assault on churches since the religious conflicts of the Reformation. Only instead of doctrinal differences, the motivation is the near-record price that lead - the stuff many old church roofs are made of - is fetching on commodity markets.

"The local parish church has become a victim of international demand for metals," said Chris Pitt, a spokesman for Ecclesiastical, a company that specializes in insuring religious buildings and other heritage sites in Britain.

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