CHURCH trustees are so fed up of having lead stolen from its roof, they are considering covering it with a cheaper material.

The board of trustees at Thorpe Bay Methodist Church might be forced to take drastic action to stop the crooks, after it was targeted three times in just one week.

Since May, the roof of the ground-floor foyer of the church, in the Broadway, Thorpe Bay, has been ripped up five times, causing more than £3,500 damage.

Architect Bernard Gooding designed the church only a few years ago, with a hall, stage and three meeting rooms, allowing many new activities to take place, such as youth groups, a coffee bar and sports activities.

He said: "To be honest, it breaks my heart to know they are thinking of using something like felt on such a wonderful feature as this roof.

"Apart from the inconvenience to the church, these youngsters are risking their lives, shinning up lead drainpipes to get to the roofs."

Paul Leech, the senior steward at the church, said: "We are not talking about international crooks here, it's a pretty amateur effort. But it's driving us round the bend because of the disturbance it's causing. It's not the money, it's more the inconvenience of the repairs. This is a beautiful building and it's being ruined."

The church is the latest victim of soaring metal thefts across the county in recent months, as the increased price of metal has raised its value as scrap.

The board of trustees for the church is now considering using a different type of roofing material, possibly felt, to stop the problems.

Mr Leech said: "We are thinking about it, but we've yet to consult the insurance company and the council planners.

"Our trustees will have to make a decision eventually, but at the moment we are gathering all the facts."

Police are investigating the incidents, three of which happened between August 15 and September 1.

Anyone with any information about the thefts is asked to call Southend police on 01702 431212.