Three men who stole paving stones worth £100k from churches across Lancashire and North West England jailed
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The thieves targeted eight churches across the North West of England, including Lancashire, between January and March.
They used stolen vans to move the stones – which were worth about £116,996 – to a reclamation yard in Wigan, where they were then sold on.
The thefts left large sections of paths unusable and significantly damaged the historic sites, which were all located in semi-rural locations.
Jason Perry, 49, Connor Lipinski, 28, and Owen Lipinski, 31, were sentenced at Chester Crown Court.
Perry, of Walshaw Street, Oldham, was jailed for four years after he admitted conspiracy to steal, handling stolen goods, and driving while disqualified.
After pleading guilty to conspiracy to steal, Connor Lipinski, of Gale Court, Rochdale, was jailed for three years while Owen Lipinski, of Newark Road, Rochdale, was sentenced to 15 months, suspended for two years.
Senior Crown Prosecutor Caroline Ross of CPS Mersey Cheshire said: “The criminality of these three men has had a huge financial and emotional impact on the communities affected.
“These were important buildings, both historically and architecturally. Their importance to their communities cannot be overstated.
“The damage was often irreparable and the stone stolen was of the highest possible quality.”
She added: “The Crown Prosecution Service worked with the police to build a strong case – the Judge has recommended that PC Stordy be commended for his work.
“The statements of the people who lived and worked around these historic buildings gave a powerful impression of the impact that these thefts have had.
“We hope the successful end to this case helps them to move forward.”
The gang’s activities first came to light on 3 March 2022, although this was the last offence committed by the gang.
The church warden at St Mary’s Church in Peel Lane in Astbury, Congleton, called the police when he noticed significant damage to the York stone path.
He estimated that between 80 to 90 York Stone slabs had been stolen.
Police released an appeal for information and CCTV came to light that identified the two stolen transit vans used by the gang.
Tracking of the stolen vehicles eventually led police to Perry’s address in Oldham where they gained access on April 4, 2022.
Perry was there and was arrested. His mobile phone was seized. Evidence of his involvement in a whole series of thefts of York stone from churches came to light. He denied any involvement.
There were also several WhatsApp messages linking Perry with the Lipinski brothers. They were clearly locating where they might find the stone and how and when they would steal it.
The Lipinski brothers also denied any involvement.
All three men were later charged with conspiracy to steal. Perry was also charged with handling stolen goods and driving while disqualified.
All three men eventually pleaded guilty.
The church warden of All Saints Church in Grindon, Staffordshire, was a key witness but sadly passed away in September 2022.
His daughter spoke of the sadness her father, who had been warden for 50 years, had felt at the “terrible theft” of the stone flags of the church path he loved.
“It's a shame, of all the funerals that church has seen, Dad’s coffin’s pall bearers had to struggle to walk along a church path that was broken, uneven, unsightly and unsafe”, she said.