A THIEF who stole £30,000-worth of lead from church roofs was caught after dropping a probation letter at one of the crime scenes.

James Wall, 21, and partner-in-crime Aaron Hennessy were jailed yesterday for 15 months as Judge Christopher Compston condemned them for targeting community venues in December and January.

Their barrister told Judge Compston at Oxford Crown Court yesterday they needed the cash to buy Christmas presents.

The pair stripped the metal flashing from churches in East Hagbourne, Didcot, Abingdon, Wantage and Blewbury, as well as from Benson Village Hall and Manor Primary School in Didcot.

Hennessy’s DNA was also traced to a bar used to extract the lead.

Hilary Neville, prosecuting, said the thefts “accumulate to somewhere in the region of over £30,000”.

Venues were insured but repair costs were more than the value of the stolen metal, she said.

She said both admitted the thefts to police and showed receipts from T R Rogers scrap merchants in Nuneham Courtenay, where they sold the metal.

Judge Christopher Compston said: “Has investigation been done to the person who bought the lead because most of us don’t turn up selling lead?”

Miss Neville said the company was a legitimate business but did not know if an investigation was under way.

Wall, of Mount View, Henley, has six previous convictions and admitted breaching a suspended prison sentence for sexual activity with a child. Hennessy, 24, of Beeching Way, Wallingford, has three previous convictions for theft, common assault and making off without payment. Andrew Hobson, defending, said Wall’s benefits had been stopped and father-of-one Hennessy had “no great deal of money”.

He said: “They did it because they were short of money. Christmas was coming and they felt a form of pressure as perhaps many of us do.

“They wanted to buy people Christmas presents.”

Judge Christopher Compston said: “It’s not only the question of stealing the lead.

“Far more important is the pain you caused the villages concerned.

“What about the weddings, the funerals, what about the Christenings (being cancelled due to leaky roofs)? And you were perfectly well aware of that.”

They both admitted four thefts and Hennessy asked for seven others to be taken into consideration.

Wall asked for eight other thefts to be taken into account and also admitted possession of cannabis.