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Cash plea to beat church crimewave; Merseyside crisis as more than 600 cases reported.

Byline: ADRIAN BUTLER

PLACES of worship in Merseyside were targeted by criminals more than 600 times in the last year, it was revealed last night.

Religious leaders across the region released the disturbing statistics as they made a plea for cash to launch an initiative aimed at combating church crime.

Churchwatch, a multi-faith organisation set up to protect churches, mosques and temples from crime said the true figure could be more than twice that suggested by official figures.

Co-ordinator the Rev Harry Ross said: ``This is reaching a crisis situation. The figure of 610 is just the tip of the iceberg.

``We think that more like 1, 200 instances of crime happened last year - that is four crimes a day at places of worship.

``We need to address this urgently. ''

Churchwatch has applied for cash from the North West Development Agency and the Safer Merseyside Partnership to launch an audit of crime in places of worship to try to spot patterns and develop strategies to beat the criminals. The police figures released yesterday showed that the most prevalent crime was criminal damage. There were 220 instances in 2004, along with 106 burglaries and 81 thefts. Around 60 vehicles were stolen or damaged.

The total figure of 610 crimes is down from the 2003 figure of 854 but that came in a year when Merseyside police launched a huge reporting drive. The figure for total recorded crime at places of worship in 2002 was 569.

Mr Ross, who is vicar of St Luke's, Goodison Road, said: ``Recently, there was a spate of three attacks on clergy from different denominations in the same area. In each case, masked men broke in in the middle of the night and took the church keys.

``Attacks like this damage people. You get so fed up in the evenings it can sap your morale. Many people find it difficult to come out for services in the evenings.

``There are churches where people have rot as minding the cars every time there's a service. Once, in my church, someone came in at the end of a service and was going around looking for what he could steal. Sometimes when people leave their bags to go up for Mass, thieves will start pinching them. ''

Mr Ross says he always tells people who are receiving visitors to make sure somebody else is in the house, and to reschedule for another time if they are going to be alone.

He added: ``I know some clergy who say they won't wear a dog collar in case people who want money think they are a soft touch. ''

Churchwatch has approached management and engineering firm Mott MacDonald to run its proposed new crime-monitoring scheme. The company has agreed to undertake the project for pounds 14, 101 plus VAT.

The company has previously worked on the Imperial War Museum in Salford, Wembley Stadium, The Sage, Gateshead and Heathrow Terminal 5.

Churchwatch asked the company to come up with a system of gathering evidence where churches fill in forms which are scanned by computer.

The organisation wants to start the scheme in April and run it for six months. This would coincide with the period where crimes peak each year, probably because of the timing of religious festivals.

It will apply for the money at a meeting of the Safer Merseyside Partnership on Friday.

Mr Ross said: ``We want to get the information so we can co-operate with police and social services to reach out to the youths in the area. We need to know where the social deprivation is and try and address it from every angle to try and get some help. ''

In 1999, Churchwatch gave religious leaders emergency pagers to alert each other about persistent offenders. The following year, it organised a Tae Kwon Do training course, and in 2001 launched an advice video.

He added: ``We give churches advice. We tell the churches to send people who ask for food to a local shop and then ring the shop and pay them. If people need a bed for the night, we tell churches they should direct them to a Salvation Army building or another hostel and then pay them.

``If you give somebody money once, they will keep on coming back, and other people will come along.

`` The Venerable Bob Metcalfe, former Archdeacon of Liverpool, is chairman of Churchwatch. He said: ``If we had a full picture of crimes we could go to the police and say this is where problems are going on. At the moment, it is difficult for us to identify problemareas. If we know what is happening over a period of time we can get help to the churches where there are problems. ''

Mr Ross said one church had turned round a crime problem by reporting every incident that took place, no matter how small, to the police.

The police were able to put anti-social behaviour orders around Springwood All Souls on Mather Avenue, Allerton to stop troublemakers coming near.

Merseyside police have area-based liaison officers who work with different faiths, including the Christian Diocese and a Jewish liaison officer at Allerton.

They also send crime prevention officers to religious buildings and work closely with them through neighbourhood policing, investigating all incidents reported as faith hate thoroughly.

A police spokesman said: ``We are continuing to work with Churchwatch, who provide an invaluable service to places of worship in Merseyside. Often, by the nature of the work, and their locations, places of worship and the clergy can find themselves vulnerable to crime.

``The force's community relations department have strong links with religious groups, hosting In Merseyside Police And Churches Together meetings as well as regular link clergy meetings, where members of different faiths can discuss common issues, including crime. ''

OPINION: PAGE 12 CATHEDRAL WORK: PAGE 17

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The Rev Harry Ross says the problem is reaching crisis point Picture: FRANK LOUGHLIN
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 8, 2005
Words:984
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