A church in Purley has employed security guards to stop thieves stealing lead from its roof.

Purley United Reformed Church in Brighton Road is facing a bill of more than £20,000 to replace the lead, the theft of which has become an epidemic after prices for the metal soared.

Such is the devastation to the church that they have now resorted to using security guards to watch over the building during the night.

Keith Hughes, chairman of management at the church, said: "It's been going on for about a month now so we are employing the security guards to patrol the building overnight in the hope that will stop them.

"They have been stealing the lead from the valley gutters. So far they have taken about seven or eight and it could cost us in the region of £15,000 to £20,000 to replace them."

Mr Hughes also said that replacing the gutters was not the only problem they faced.

He said: "If somebody steals the gutters during the night and it rains the next day, the water comes through into the church and causes damage, so we are paying for that as well.

"We had the funeral of a long-serving member of the church, former minister Reverend Katherine Hendry, last week and it sounded like a rainstorm inside, completely ruining it.

"We are in constant contact with the police but they can't put a patrol here all through the night."

The theft of lead from buildings has become almost commonplace in recent months after its price rocketed on world markets, spiking at $3,655 a tonne at the beginning of the month.

Kevin Ahronson, church manager at Purley Baptist Church in Banstead Road, confirmed they had also been targeted. He said: "All three of our premises around Purley Cross have been hit by thieves taking lead.

"We have got quotes for more repairs but already it has cost us several hundreds of pounds."

Councillor Steve O'Connell, cabinet member for safety and cohesion, said: "I was flabbergasted to hear the current extent of the problem and we need to give reassurances to the church that we are doing something about it. "It strikes right at the very heart of our community and it's sacrilegious against our churches. It seems to have become an epidemic and I have asked the police to treat it as a matter of urgency."

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