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Men who stole church paving stones worth £100k sentenced

Ormskirk Parish Church path was destroyed by the theft of the York stone slabs

Three men who stole thousands of pounds worth of valuable paving stones from historic churchyards have been jailed.

The thieves targeted eight churches across the North West of England between January and March.

They used stolen vans to move the stones, which were worth about £116,996, to a reclamation yard in Wigan, where they were then sold on.

Jason Perry, 49, Connor Lipinski, 28, and Owen Lipinski, 31, were sentenced at Chester Crown Court.

Perry, of Walshaw Street, Oldham, admitted conspiracy to steal, handling stolen goods, and driving while disqualified and was jailed for four years.

After pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal, Connor Lipinski, of Gale Court, Rochdale, was jailed for three years while Owen Lipinski, of Newark Road, Rochdale, was sentenced to 15 months, suspended for two years.

The flagstones at St Cuthbert's Church are thought to be about 200 years old

A church warden at St Mary's Church in Congleton, Cheshire, raised the alarm in March when about 80 or 90 York stone slabs were stolen from the church path, the court heard. CCTV footage helped police identify two stolen transit vans which led them Perry's home, where they seized his mobile phone.

Officers found WhatsApp messages showing that the men worked together to identify targets in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

'Irreparable damage'

The CPS said the thefts left large sections of paths unusable and significantly damaged the historic sites.

The church warden of All Saints Church in Staffordshire was a key witness in the case but died in September.

His daughter spoke of the sadness her father, who had been warden for 50 years, had felt at the "terrible theft" of the stone flags of the church path he loved.

"It's a shame, of all the funerals that church has seen, Dad's coffin's pall bearers had to struggle to walk along a church path that was broken, uneven, unsightly and unsafe", she said.

Senior crown prosecutor Caroline Ross said the thefts "had a huge financial and emotional impact on the communities" and the "damage was often irreparable".

She said: "These were important buildings, both historically and architecturally. Their importance to their communities cannot be overstated."

The churches affected were:

  • Church of All Saints, Glossop, Derbyshire

  • St Cuthbert's, Halsall, Lancashire

  • St Michaels Church, Aughton, Lancashire

  • St Ambrose CE Church, Grindleton, Lancashire

  • Saint Mary and All Saints Church, Whalley, Lancashire

  • Ormskirk Parish Church, Lancashire

  • All Saints Church, Grindon, Staffordshire

  • St Mary's, Astbury

Thieves who caused £125k damage with church theft jailed

Jason Perry (left) and Connor Lipinski (right) were both jailed. Owen Lipinski (not pictured) was handed a suspended sentence.

TWO men who stole York stone from churches in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire

and Lancashire have been jailed, with another man handed a suspended sentence.

Jason Perry, 49, from Wallshaw Street, Oldham pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to steal stone, driving whilst disqualified and handling a stolen vehicle. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment. Connor Lipinski, 28, from Gale Court ,Rochdale admitted the conspiracy to steal stone at an earlier hearing. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Owen Lipinski, 31, from Gale Court, Rochdale also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal stone. He was handed a 15 month suspended sentence.

All three were sentenced at Chester Crown Court yesterday (Wednesday, December 21).

Their spree came to an end when officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team identified Perry’s vehicle during their investigation into the theft at St Mary’s Church in Astbury. Perry’s vehicle was caught on CCTV at the church leading them to more and more evidence linking them to the crimes.

In a three month period between January and March 2022, the men had also taken historic York stones from Church of All Saints, Glossop, Derbyshire; St Cuthberts, Hassall, Lancashire; St Michael Church Aughton, Lancashire; St Ambrose CE Church, Grindleton, Lancashire; Ormskirk Parish Church, Lancashire and All Saints Church, Grindon, Staffordshire.

All the churches affected were of historic significance, with four being grade one listed. The total repair bill has come to approximately more than £125,000.

Raids were carried out on Wednesday 27 July at addresses in Middleton, Oldham and Rochdale by officers from Cheshire Constabulary’s Rural Crime Team with the assistance of colleagues from Lancashire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Greater Manchester Police. The Lipinski’s and Perry were arrested simultaneously in the raids.

They were later charged with the conspiracy to commit the thefts and Perry was also charged with handling a stolen motor vehicle and driving while disqualified.

Some of the stone was able to be returned to three of the effected churches after officers identified the location that the stolen pieces had been sold on to. A supplier of illicit number plates was also identified, searched under warrant and shut down. All three involved stolen vehicles were also recovered and returned to their rightful owners.

PC Rob Stordy said: "By working together with other forces and with the expert help and advice from Historic England, we have brought these men to justice for pillaging our rich history.

"These crimes impacted the heart of our rural communities and left most of the paths impassable due to the damage the men had caused by removing the stones.

"I hope today’s result sends a message to thieves that rural crime is taken extremely seriously. We will do all we can to get justice for our rural residents and keep Cheshire a hostile environment for criminals."

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy at Historic England said: "The outcome of this case highlights the benefits of collaborative working between the Cheshire Constabulary, Crown Prosecution Service, church communities and Historic England and is an approach we shall continue to use when dealing with the theft of historic stone.

"The theft of stone from historic church buildings is serious organised acquisitive crime.

"Removing large areas of paving from church buildings has not just a serious financial impact on church communities but a significant impact on their morale.

"The stone stolen in this case will have historic and cultural value and its removal can lead to irreparable loss and damage not just to individual communities but to the whole nation, which is why tackling this type of heritage crime is so important."


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