A CHURCH in Evesham which was the target of a ‘prolific’ thief has been sentenced to three years and eight months in prison.
Christopher Cooper, 48, from Trallong, Brecon, appeared at Hereford Crown Court last Friday (May 6) where he admitted to 37 thefts from churches, including All Saints Church in Evesham, dealing in tainted cultural items and fraud.
An investigation was launched in 2013 after a man from Kent was arrested for buying a gorilla’s head. As a result of a subsequent search, a number of church items were found that were believed to have been stolen from the Herefordshire area.
The buyer then told police that he had bought the items from a man in Herefordshire.
The Metropolitan Police antiquities team then advised West Mercia Police of the recovery, and investigative work was carried out to find the offender and to try and return some of the stolen items to victims.
As part of the investigation, an arrest warrant was carried out in January 2015 and Cooper was arrested.
A large number of stolen items including statues and paintings were recovered during the warrant, and a book was also found at the property which contained a list of churches and codes.
As well as targeting Evesham, Cooper also stole from churches in North Wales, Warwick, Malvern, Cirencester, Kent, Sussex, Essex and Swindon.
The court heard how the 48-year-old also created articles and passed them off as antiques and defaced ancient relics. These items included statues, stained glass, stone coffins, crosses, font plugs and ancient bibles.
At Friday’s sentencing, Cooper was sentenced to three years in prison for each of seven charges of theft and three years for dealing in tainted antiquities to run concurrently. He was also sentenced to eight months in prison for two counts of fraud. He asked for thirty other offences to be taken into consideration.
Cooper was handed a POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act) order, which means he will have to repay an amount of money if he is able to do so.
Temporary Insp Andrew Bennett from West Mercia Police said: “Churches are by their very nature an open place of worship, and sadly in this instance, they were vulnerable to Cooper’s offences.
“The people who manage and worship at the affected churches are also victims, and whole communities have been affected by his actions.
“Christopher Cooper is one of the most prolific church thieves that we have seen in this country for some time, and I’d like to thank all of the officers involved in the investigation for their hard work and determination in bringing this offender to justice.”