Police act to stop clergy attacks

South Lanarkshire, UK - Threats against members of the clergy and vandalism of church property have prompted police in South Lanarkshire to launch a faith safety campaign.

Faith Watch is believed to be the first scheme in Scotland to educate religious leaders on how to protect themselves and places of worship.

Pc John Waters said many suffered in silence because they thought dealing with violence was part of their job.

It comes as it emerged £9m of metal was stolen from UK churches last year.

Pc Waters, community safety officer for East Kilbride, launched the Faith Watch scheme after hearing about vandalism to churches in the area.

He said: "I started to talk to local priests and ministers and began to think that this would be a good idea.

"A lot of them had had incidents where they have been subject to violence or threatening behaviour, but they have not reported it. They seem to think its part of the job."

Pc Waters said the aim of Faith Watch was to educate members of the clergy that they can counteract this type of behaviour.

Other religious groups, including the local Sikh and Jewish communities, and the humanist society, have also expressed an interest in the scheme.

Pc Waters said: "Every person has got the right to worship in peace, when criminals start to vandalise churches it takes away that right."

Rev Jim Meighan, a former minister at Erskine Baptiste church and now doing a teacher training course, said people who worked in the church were often exposed to threatening behaviour.

He said: "Sometimes there are problems with kids coming to the church that are drugged-up wanting to have a square-go.

"No minister wants to turn their church into a fortress but that's what's happening."

He said sometimes ministers did not realise they were in a dangerous situation.

"Some tend to hide behind the collar, they think the collar will protect them, but sometimes the collar can cause the situation," he said.

Metal theft

Ecclesiastical Insurance, a company which handles claims for Episcopal churches in the UK, reported a rise in metal thefts last year.

Chris Pitt, a spokesman for the company, said the growing price of metal had led to the increase.

He said this type of theft was not as prevalent in Scotland, where only six cases were reported last year, but fire-raising and vandalism were also problems.

Delegates at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be encouraged to deter theft from church property, rather than claim on insurance, when they meet next month.