Fourth man appears in court over lead thefts at Lincolnshire churches

A fourth man charged in connection with the theft of lead from churches across Lincolnshire has appeared at Lincoln Crown Court.

Lincoln Crown Court.

Mihai Birtu, 23, has been charged with 21 offences of theft of lead from churches in Lincolnshire and elsewhere across England.

Birtu, of Port Street, Evesham, was arrested by police in July and remanded in custody after appearing at Nottinghamshire Magistrates’ Court.

His case was transferred to Lincoln Crown Court where he appeared by video-link with a Romanian interpreter.

No pleas were entered and Judge John Pini QC adjourned the case for a plea and trial preparation hearing on October 9.

Birtu is one of four men who were arrested after a joint police investigation by several forces into lead thefts from churches across England.

Among those counties hit hardest by the thefts were Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Somerset and East Yorkshire.

Three other men have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the thefts and will be sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court on October 9.

They are Paul Buica, 25, of George Street, Birmingham; Constantin Motescu, 32, of Stebbings, Sutton Hill, Telford; and Luarentiu Sucea, 38, of George Street, Birmingham.

Among those churches which were targeted in Lincolnshire were St Nicholas in Normanton, St Lawrence in Tallington, St Mary & St Nicholas at Wrangle, St Andrew in Billingborough, St Swithins at Baumber and St Bartholomew at Covenham St Bartholomew.

All the offences occurred between May 2018 and March 2020.

During 2019, Lincolnshire Police set up a dedicated team to work with the Diocese of Lincoln after a spike in lead theft cases.

Chief inspector Phil Vickers said: “During 2019 Lincolnshire Police worked with the Lincoln Diocese and individual church premises across the county, providing site-specific advice to 53 premises as well as broader guidance to prevent offending, in addition to several hundred site visits that had been carried out previously.

“The impact of these offences goes well beyond the significant financial cost. Communities have felt a great sense of loss at the damage caused to their heritage, and increased vulnerability due to the rural nature of many of the premises .

“We know that in addition to the loss of lead, extensive damage has been caused to the fabric of the buildings by water ingress during bad weather.

“We continue to work with rural communities to prevent offending, and encourage anyone seeing or hearing anything suspicious at Heritage Sites, particularly at night but also during the day, to contact Police immediately.”