A THIEF who stripped lead from schools, a church and a charity has been jailed for nine months.

Mark Hendron caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage by tearing the metal from the roofs of eight institutions. The 25-year-old was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court yesterday having admitted one count of theft and asking for nine others to be taken into consideration.

Judge Charles Harris told him: “Offences of this sort are serious, unpleasant and quite common, and if you think about it for a moment you will appreciate why it’s not just the value of the lead you take but the huge inconvenience and considerable expense of repairing the damage you have caused.”

He added: “I think if you asked the public if people who go around stripping lead from roofs shouldn’t go to prison they would say of course they should go to prison.”

Defence barrister Jeannie Mackie retorted: “The public watches Celebrity Big Brother so their judgement may not always be quite right.”

Hendron’s spate of offending began on April 17 with the theft of about £1,000 of lead from The Institute in North Street, Marcham, which is owned by local charity the Arthur Anson Trust.

In the next month and a half, Hendron struck at Carswell Primary School in Abingdon twice, causing about £20,000 of damage, and also made two raids on St Leonard’s Church in Sunningwell.

On his second theft at the church, on May 16, Hendron also helped himself to a crate of 10 pints of milk from the neighbouring Sunningwell School of Art. St Leonard’s Church suffered water damage as a result of the missing lead and its insurers will only pay out to a maximum of £5,000.

Bryn Gibson, deputy headteacher at Carswell, last night said: “The damage has been repaired but it has been a very expensive job costing in excess of £20,000.

“Ideally I wouldn’t want anybody to have a custodial sentence but I hope it will deter others from doing it.”

The court heard father-of-two Hendron, of Westfield, Harwell, near Didcot, has 55 previous convictions and is currently awaiting sentence for two counts of assaulting his partner.

Miss Mackie, defending, said her client, who is now teetotal after overcoming an alcohol problem, lost his job at a chicken farm in February and turned to theft to pay the rent. She said: “The reason for these offences was financial desperation.”

Judge Harris said: “These are grave and quite prevalent offences, schools and churches particularly seem to suffer.”

There are currently no sentencing guidelines covering theft.

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry , who has campaigned for tougher penalties for lead theft, said: “Lead theft is a despicable crime and it’s important that judges are giving immediate custodial sentences.

“At the moment it’s far too easy late at night to strip a church of its lead, go round to a scrapyard the next morning, be paid in cash and just disappear.”