THREE thieves were caught red-handed after stealing lead from the roof of a masonic lodge.

The hands of Reece Marchbank, Nathanial Gill and David Cadge were tested for the metal after it was stolen from the building in South Street, Rochford.

Experts used a forensic process used to test for gun shot residue – and found they had lead dust on their palms.

The trio appeared before Southend Magistrates’ Court yesterday where they pleaded guilty to stealing lead from the 151-year-old building.

But they pleaded not guilty to causing £35,000 of criminal damage to the building in the process.

Marchbank, 18, of Ruskin Avenue, Southend, Gill, 18, of Scotts Hall Road, Canewdon, and Cadge, 18, of Ulting Way, Wickford, were all bailed to return to Southend Magistrates’ Court on October 5 when they will be committed to crown court.

Marchbank also admitted breaching a previous community order imposed by the same court in May for a previous charge of theft.

He had been ordered to complete 60 hours unpaid work, but had been missing appointments.

The court sentenced him to four months in a young offenders’ institute.

l The building has been targeted by thieves five times since April, causing it to flood and rotting the wooden beams inside.

The lodge is now covered with corrugated iron sheets to protect it from the elements. This will be replaced with a material other than lead to prevent further thefts.

Speaking after the case, Derek Childs, 75, secretary of the lodge, said thieves were risking their lives by climbing on to the roof of the three-storey building.

He said: “They’ve climbed up a cast iron drainpipe at the side of the building, on to a little flat roof, and then shinned up another cast iron drainpipe that has been up there 151 years.

“It could easily have come way from the wall and they could’ve done themselves some injury. It’s so high up you can see the airport from the roof.”