SOMERSET churches are fighting back against thieves stripping lead from their roofs.

The Hands Off Our Church Roofs campaign will see heritage insurer Ecclesiastical invest £500,000 in roof alarms on the worst-hit churches.

The initiative follows a sharp increase in metal thefts from Church of England churches and a national survey revealing: *43% of people in the South-West are “appalled” and 40% “saddened” by the crime; *94% support a law change making it harder for criminals to sell stolen metal to scrap dealers; *15% say their lives have been directly affected by metal theft since 2007.

Ecclesiastical says thefts of metal from church roofs in the South-West cost more than £480,000 last year and more than £2.6million over five years.

John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s director of church insurance, said: “The attack on Britain’s churches has reached catastrophic proportions and we simply have to do something about it.

“Every night seven churches across the UK are targeted by criminals, who see them as easy pickings.

“Our Hands Off Our Church Roofs campaign will ensure they won’t be easy anymore.”

The firm will not reveal which churches are being alarmed and hopes other churches will install their own systems The alarms use concealed sensors to detect the presence of a metal thief and once activated emit blue flashing lights, while speakers broadcast a loud, recorded message warning the criminal that an alarm has been activated.