An investigation into lead theft and criminal activity on churches in Essex has found 442 reported crimes since 2017.

The investigation took place after several complaints were made to the Countryside Alliance that the issue was not dealing properly dealt with.

After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to Essex Police, the rural campaigning group learned that Essex churches are not only being targeted for their lead.

Including six recorded cases of lead thefts, there were also over 259 ‘general’ thefts in the past three years and 40 cases of violence against a person.

Churches in the county have also been subject to 135 counts of criminal damage since 2017.

Jessie Dunn of the Countryside Alliance said “These figures paint a bleak picture of criminal attacks on our churches and religious buildings in Essex and across the country as a whole.

“As a society, irrespective of faith or none, 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.”

Across the UK, a total of 19, 493 crimes have been committed at churches and religious buildings, after 40 of 45 UK police forces responded to the FOI request.

The Countryside Alliance, which campaigns on rural issues, has compiled the data from across the country, into a report for its membership.

This includes 2,490 cases of violence, 4162 of criminal damage and 7,206 of thefts of which, 940 relate to lead theft.

It works out at a rate of 19 crimes a day, nationwide.

Speaking to Premier Christian radio about the national figures, which translate to a crime every 70 minutes, The Church of England's director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark said: "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.