Hundreds of crimes including arson, theft and criminal damage have been committed in churches across West Mercia over the past year.

New figures show some 119 crimes have been recorded at the places of worship since July 2020.

Records from West Mercia Police reveal 52 thefts, including bicycles and vehicle offences.

There were also 30 cases of criminal damage, which included 3 cases of arson not endangering life.

One incident resulted in over £5,000  worth of damage.

A further 24 cases of violence were also recorded, including 12 cases of violence with injury.

The number of incidents recorded is down from the previous year, when 143 incidents were recorded.

Zero cases of lead theft were recorded this year, compared to 10 in the months between July 2019 to August 2020.

The figures were obtained by the Countryside Alliance as part of its ongoing call to focus attention on rural churches and increase funding for security at places of worship.

In total, since the Alliance began collecting local data going back to 2017, 580 incidents have been recorded at churches in the West Mercia policing area alone.

Mo Metcalf- Fisher, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “We are presented with a grim reality that many churches and places of worship are being treated as easy targets by criminals.

“These are supposed to be places where people go to seek solace, but all too often they subjected to heinous crimes, either in or on their property. 

“While it is positive to see the overall number of crimes recorded  by West Mercia Police are down on last year, the numbers are still far too high.

“We cannot allow these precious places, which are often the centre of villages and towns across the country, to go unguarded and be so exposed.

“Irrespective of faith, ensuring the public keep an ever watchful eye on churches and reporting suspicious behaviour to police is vital as is easy access protective funding schemes.” 

Nationally, 115 lead thefts were recorded along with 1,388 thefts, 1,731 incidents of vandalism and criminal damage - including arson - and 848 incidents of violence.

207 incidents were specifically marked as burglary, as well as other crimes including stalking, malicious communications, hate crime and drug possession.

The worst-hit areas are largely in the south-east of England with Sussex Police recording 367 crimes, Kent 209 cases and the Metropolitan Police 575.

Overall there has been a decrease nationally in crimes committed at churches since last year.

South Wales, Cleveland, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester were the only five forces to return increases this year.

The Countryside Alliance's annual report into crimes on churches and religious buildings has revealed a total of 30,000 incidents in four years, with data obtained under Freedom of Information laws going back to 2017.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Church of England said: "The Church of England has nearly 16,000 buildings and is a presence in every community, it provides a space that is available to all that includes churchyards.

"Crime on church premises is not always crime directed against the church. We encourage churches to engage with the police and others over crime on their premises."