CHURCH leaders are asking for special dispensation to re-roof their ancient church with alternatives to authentic lead after thieves caused major damage when they stripped forty square metres from the Grade I-listed building.

St Gregory’s church in Bedale was due to undergo a £96,000 re-roofing with lead in the next six weeks, before the the thieves struck causing damage to the Lady Chapel and altar when they left the 700-year-old church open to the elements on some of the wettest nights of the year.

The vicar of Bedale, Rev Ian Robinson is now so concerned the thieves could hit again he has made an emergency appeal to conservationists to be allowed to use different materials for the re-roofing.

He says it is the fourth incident at churches with lead taken from Burneston, Redmire and Aysgarth over the past few months.

“It really is so upsetting, that anyone would think about removing lead from anywhere let alone a church. It has damaged the Lady Chapel and the altar, we have had to move services,” said Rev Robinson.

“I really just don’t understand why people do it, they may get some financial return but it’s going to be next to nothing, lead isn’t as saleable as it was, and with the licensing of dealers where do they dispose of it ?"

The church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and was last re-roofed in 1907. A historic plaque which marked the re-roofing 108 years ago was just missed by the thieves - it was the next lead sheet alongside the ones taken.

“We are so thankful that we have managed to save the plaque but we are concerned about the re-roofing of the church. We don’t want this to happen again. We were due to carry out extensive re-covering of the roof in the next six weeks with a grant from Historic England from the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund.

“We have now applied to them to see if we can re-roof it with another material, it is a Grade I listed building and obviously we would have used lead, but we are hoping using another material could help protect the church in the future. It does include the area of the roof where the lead was taken.

“It has been a terrible blow, but I have been incredibly heartened by the support we have had from our congregation and the people of Bedale who have rallied round to offer help.”

Rev Robinson said new security arrangements have been put in place. Police have appealed for anyone with information about the theft, which happened sometime between lunchtime on Tuesday, March 8 and the morning of Thursday, March 10, to call 101.