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Churches hit by crime every 70 minutes

More vigilant security is needed for places of worship as almost 20,000 offences, including theft, arson and drug dealing on church grounds have been recorded since January 2017.

Figures obtained by the Countryside Alliance through Freedom of Information requests reveal thieves stole war medals from a veterans' memorial, silverware and oils in the past two years.

Arson attacks are amongst the crimes recorded, including an arson attack in February 2017, which destroyed the Grade II-listed Church of the Ascension in Manchester.

The Church of England's director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark told Premier: "While these things are undoubtedly very damaging, very harmful when they happen to individual communities, we're still looking at the majority of churches being safe places that are open to their communities."

"We're trying to work with the police on different initiatives to deal with some of the most widely presenting issues. However, fundamentally, churches are places where people should be able to come in all states, they should be able to come and feel safe. We want to make sure that those churches feel that they can stay open."

"This research includes churchyards, which are enormously important green spaces. In some communities, particularly in urban areas, they might be the only green and open space available to people. So it's going to be a natural place for people to come to for all sorts of things, mostly good, but occasionally bad."

Last week Sussex Police revealed they were investigating reports that a woman in her 50s was raped in a graveyard.

South Yorkshire Police have recorded cases of drug dealing, harassment and exposure.

Countryside Alliance's spokesperson, Mo Metcalf-Fisher said: "These figures paint a bleak picture. As a society, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity.

"It serves as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote."

Ms Clark told Premier the Church of England are working with the police on new initiatives to address the situation: "We have to work on addressing those bad things that happen because the alternative is closing these people off from the chance to encounter God and for those who may be coming to faith, or who are wanting to reaffirm their faith, through prayer through worship, closing the churches is the last thing we'd want to do."

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