A CHURCH repeatedly targeted by lead thieves is fighting rules which decree that stolen materials must be replaced ‘like for like’.

The Grade II* listed St Mary’s Church, in High Road, Chigwell, has had lead from its roof stolen three times this year. In June church leaders decided to use less expensive tiles - which are also less attractive to thieves - as a replacement.

But the historic building, which dates back to 1160, has come under fire from English Heritage which insists that stolen lead must be replaced.

Church project administrator Trevor Jones said: “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. The whole lot will just be taken again.

“Our lead was taken some time ago. It was taken again and within five months was taken yet again.

“We definitely don’t want lead put back. The whole of the church is tiled except for one annex which has a roof so we can see no reason at all why it can’t come into line.”

Soaring scrap metal prices have fuelled demand for lead, and churches have become a target for thieves.

Mr Jones said: “Everyone has got the same problem with English Heritage when they say you must put back like for like.

“Quite frankly, if we put it back it will only be taken off again. Last time it was stolen we had put in special greasy paint on the drain pipes and a camera there which they put a cloth over. They got a ladder and climbed over the top.

“It’s the same gang every time, and things are getting worse. We’ve even be asked to insure the lightning conductor on the roof.”

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “There are good reasons why our guidance recommends like-for-like replacement as lead is very durable and performs extremely well as a roofing material.

“It can easily be repaired and much of it comes from recycled sources. It is also authentic and beautiful. But our guidance is by no means a diktat and each case should be considered on its merits.

“If replacing with lead is not immediately affordable, we recommend that owners find a temporary solution using materials such as felt which can last as long as ten years.”