Around 165 crimed have been committed at churches across Lancashire in the last year.

New data 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, found that Lancashire had the highest number of lead thefts from churches recorded by any force, alongside Norfolk.

The latest 2020/21 records from the police recorded 42 thefts, of which 11 related to lead being taken from the roof of a church, as well as 76 cases of criminal damage and 47 cases of violence.

Nationally, 115 lead thefts were recorded along with 1336 thefts, 1688 incidents of vandalism and criminal damage - including arson- and 824 incidents of violence, including sexual assault and assault on an officer.

There were 207 incidents specifically marked as burglary nationally, 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, Cumbria, Essex, Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester were the five forces to return overall increases this year.

Spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, Mo Metcalf- Fisher, 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.

“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.”

The organisation’s annual report into crimes on churches and religious buildings has revealed a total of 30,169 incidents in four years, with data obtained under Freedom of Information laws going back to 2017.

In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Nolan, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for heritage crime, said: "Metal theft is still a problem that blights all aspects of society and the targeting of churches for metal is one area in which we work closely with heritage organisations across the UK to help protect potential victims of crime.

"Over the last twelve months there have been two national weeks of intensification focused on metal crime, leading to thousands of items of stolen property being recovered, hundreds of arrests and the disruption of criminal activity in the waste industry.

"This work continues and while we have seen a reduction in metal crime nationally, we have a renewed focus to ensure that those who engage in thefts of these types have nowhere to run."