Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from National Churchwatch

  The advice that I give to Places of Worship is that no-one has a right to enter except when entering for a public service in a Church of England church. At all other times people are given a licence to enter by the doors being open which can be withdrawn at any time by someone acting on authority of the Minister or those who are responsible for the church. If the person refuses to leave when asked (thus becoming a trespasser) then the police can be called to supervise the person removing the trespasser using reasonable force if necessary. (The police are there to ensure there is not a breach of the peace.)

  The ECJA is extremely useful when dealing with "indecent" (or in other words "inappropriate") behaviour such as eating or smoking, men going bare-chested or wearing a hat, or skateboarders in churchyards. Some churches and cathedrals have printed leaflets with the text of S 2 and an explanation of the meaning of the word "indecent", and if someone persists in this sort of conduct, they give them a copy of the leaflet and advise them that they might be committing a criminal offence. This is often enough to get them to desist. I do acknowledge that the same result might be achieved by having printed copies of S 4A of the Public Order Act. However the fact that there is a specific act relating to Ecclesiastical places often gives more weight to the threat. Although irritating, these minor breaches of good taste and decency have to be seen in the context of a general deterioration in respect for places of worship and ministers of religion, and the growth of crimes against persons and property belonging to the churches.

  With regard to "desecration" offences not involving criminal damage such as the hypothetical case of someone purloining a chalice and using it for satanic rituals or satanic/pagan rituals being conducted in churchyards which have occurred on occasion in Somerset/Devon. It is my opinion, if there was no damage, these incidents are probably best ignored, as indeed they were. It would be extremely difficult to prosecute those who indulged in this type of conduct because there would be no witnesses.

Statistics in relation to Recorded Church Crime in England and Wales in 2002


  The total recorded crime against places of worship from April to April 2002 was 6,829 crimes in a sample 12 police force areas.

  This is an average of 569 crimes per force area every 12 months.

  This compares with an average 431 crimes per force in 1998 and an average of 429 crimes per force in 1999.

  There are 42 police forces in England and Wales therefore the possible recorded church crime is around 23,898 per year. This compares with 17,671 every 12 months in 1998 and 18,018 in 1999.

  This represents 65 offences against Places of Worship every day.

  This is a rise of 33 per cent in four years, above the general rate of crime.


  The total number of violent crimes that resulted in injury that occurred in our places of worship in the 12 forces was 186. This is an average of 16 attacks per force, or a total of 651 per 12 months around the country. This compares with an average nine attacks per force in 1998 and 11 attacks per force in 1999.

  Two of these violent attacks resulted in murder.


  The total number of thefts and burglaries from our churches in 2002 was 3,595 in 12 forces, an average of 300 per force giving a national total of around 12,600 per year or 35 thefts/burglaries per day. In 1998 the average was 284 per force or 11,644 per year. In 1999 it was 236 per force of 9,912 per year.


  The total number of offences of criminal damage against our churches in 2002 was 2,866 in 12 forces or an average of 239 per force. The national total is therefore 10,038 or 28 crimes per day against places of worship. This compares with an average of 17 per day in 1998 and 20 incidents per day in 1999.


  The previous statistics are the crime figures that are recorded by the police around the country. It is, of course, difficult to assess how much actual crime occurs. To try and assess this I am using the statistics quoted in "The Home Office British Crime Survey 2002." In that publication it is stated,

    "It is estimated that only 44 per cent of crimes are ever reported to the Police. Of these reports, only 50 per cent are ever recorded".

  So the total number of crimes in 2002 is probably nearer 110,000 per year or 300 crimes against places of worship per day.

Comparison between 1998-99 crime figures for those Police Forces that could provide both sets
ForceViolence 1998 Violence 1999Violence 2002
Avon and Somerset37 1217
Cambridgeshire145 18
Kent1416 34
Nottinghamshire1112 11
South Yorkshire92 25
Surrey1026 2
West Mercia1119 25
Total10692 132

ForceTheft Burglary 1998 Theft Burglary 1999Theft Burglary 2002
Avon and Somerset613 581416
Cambridgeshire269198 263
Kent262149 361
Nottinghamshire2480 316
South Yorkshire380275 368
Surrey425216 113
West Mercia380258 271
Total2,5771,677 2,108

ForceCriminal Damage 1998 Criminal Damage 1999Criminal Damage 2002
Avon and Somerset219 211231
Cambridgeshire12899 143
Kent204224 254
Nottinghamshire201200 240
South Yorkshire205231 265
Surrey134175 95
West Mercia176188 243
Total1,2671,328 1,471

  What is interesting to note with these figures is that Avon and Somerset bucks the trend of 30 per cent rise in figures, by having a much lower rise and a reduction in burglaries. Could this be because the Bath and Wells Churchwatch is in operation raising awareness of places of worship to crime?

  Without doubt Churchwatch raises awareness of crime issues and reduces the fear of crime which is not covered by these figures. Churchwatch works!


  The amount of actual crime in our churches is difficult to estimate. The minimum it could be are the recorded crime figures from our police forces. However, I believe this is a gross underestimate. As you can see in the section on actual crime there could be an incredible amount of crime that goes unreported. I suspect that the true figure falls somewhere in between.

  Whatever the truth of the matter it is time for the church to take positive action to prevent people in the church being attacked and the loss of our heritage through theft and damage.
ForceViolence Theft/BurglaryCriminal Damage OtherTotal
Avon and Somerset17416 2318672
Cambridgeshire18263 1438432
Dorset6132 1133254
Essex20653 792561,521
Hampshire17361 30724709
Kent34361 25418667
Northamptonshire11108 1133235
Nottinghamshire11316 24017584
South Yorkshire25368 26514672
Surrey2113 955215
Suffolk0233 700303
West Mercia25271 24326565
Total1863,595 2,8661826,829

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003