Vandals, Arsonists and Thieves Targeting British Churches

Unpredecented Wave of Attacks Reported

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LONDON, JUNE 5, 2002 ( Churches and cathedrals in Britain are suffering an unprecedented wave of attacks from vandals, arsonists and thieves, the Telegraph newspaper reports.

Damage costing a record £7.3 million ($10.6 million) was caused last year, more than double the level a year earlier, to buildings ranging from medieval cathedrals to the church hall where John Lennon met Paul McCartney.

Ian Simpson, the chief claims manager for the firm Ecclesiastical, which insures more than 90% of Britain´s Anglican churches, said that the buildings were seen as «fair game» by criminals, from gangs to bored teen-agers spraying graffiti.

«Respect and reverence for these buildings — you could almost call it the fear of God — is not so prevalent these days,» he said.

That wouldn´t be news to pollsters in recent years. Bellwhether figures for religious observance in Britain have been falling for years.

In November 2000, a survey by the National Center for Social Research showed 44% of all adults in the United Kingdom say they have no religious affiliation. Those figures rose to two-thirds among 18- to 24-year-olds.

The number of people who say they are members of the Anglican church had fallen by 40% since 1983, the poll found.

In March 2001 the press reported that the number of Catholic priests in Great Britain was expected to drop by half in the next 10 to 15 years, and nearly a third of parishes would be without priests by 2005.

Regarding the recent attacks on buildings, insurers say the trend reflects a decline in respect for churches.

Figures compiled by the insurer Ecclesiastical show that the number of claims for vandalism rose by 10% last year, and the cost increased by 15% to £1.8 million ($2.6 million), up from £1.5 million in 2000 and £1.3 million in the previous two years.

St. Joseph´s in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has had to install bulletproof glass over its stained glass windows after attacks from teen-agers armed with catapults and air rifles, the Telegraph reported. An increasing number of churchyards have also been desecrated.

Arson claims trebled last year, with the bill rising from less than £500,000 in 2000 to £4.1 million ($5.99 million).

St. Peter´s church hall in Woolton, Liverpool, where John Lennon first met Paul McCartney 45 years ago while performing with his group The Quarrymen, suffered damage when it was struck by arsonists last September.

Nick Tolson, the coordinator of National Churchwatch, an organization set up two years ago to counter crime against churches, said: «Without doubt arson is on the increase.»

Tolson said that 80% of churches had minimal security, and a survey in Somerset had found that 30% did not even have a lock on the main door.

A growing number of clergy were, however, locking their churches during the week and some had fitted alarms, including motion sensors that are connected to mobile telephones, which ring when triggered.

Using police statistics, National Churchwatch estimates that there were more than 1,850 attacks on places of worship in 1999, the last year for which figures were available.

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