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Churches urged to review security following theft of metal incidents

Churches across the UK are being urged to take steps to prevent metal theft following a spate of incidents.

The warning comes from specialist insurer Ecclesiastical following theft of lead from the roof of churches in Bath, including All Saints Church in Weston which was targeted multiple times in one month.

High demand for copper and lead, driven by an increase in metal prices, has seen several churches already affected by theft in the first quarter of 2023. The recent incidents of metal theft combined with a challenging economic backdrop has raised concerns there could be an increase in criminal activity putting churches at risk.

The introduction of UK wide restrictions during the pandemic limited opportunities for criminal gangs to steal metal from the country’s heritage buildings. Last year, claims rose by more than a quarter (26%) following the lifting of lockdown restrictions prompting fears churches will again be targeted.

Ecclesiastical is urging churches across the country to carry out reviews of their security arrangements as a result of the recent increase. The specialist insurer recommends measures including the use of security lights and roof alarms.

Roof alarms have been proven to especially deter criminals in one recent Church attack in Essex thieves were disturbed by the alarm going off and left the scene empty-handed.

Other measures such as installing additional lighting to increase surveillance levels, use of anti-climb paint and CCTV can help deter thefts. Making life difficult for metal thieves by removing easy means of access onto roofs, such as waters butts, benches, bins and ladders.

Some churches and heritage properties that have been victims of metal theft incidents have replaced stolen materials with alternatives, such as stainless steel, which are less appealing to criminals.

The insurer requires customers to have security marking systems such as SmartWater, which has been proven to help with successful prosecution of metal thieves, in place as part of its policy and for policy conditions to be followed.

Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “While there hasn’t been the return to levels of theft we were seeing before the pandemic, the increase over the last year and cases already in 2023 are a cause for concern.

“Recent trends have seen thieves targeting other metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium which can be found in catalytic converters. However, there is a risk that the continuing economic downturn in the UK could see an increase in theft of metal from historical buildings such as churches, so it’s vital they take steps to protect their premises from unscrupulous offenders.

“Theft of metal can have a devastating impact on churches and heritage buildings. Aside from the cost of replacing the metal, further damage can happen as a result of exposure to the elements which can cost thousands of pounds. It is critically important that churches make sure they have the right cover in place. Our team of experts is on hand to support customers and can be contacted on 0345 777 3322.

“We’re urging churches across the country take steps to protect themselves and follow our guidance which is available through our website.”

Detective Chief Supt Taylor head of Opal, the National Intelligence unit for Organised Acquisitive crime, said: “The impact of this type of crime is significant. Not only does it result in the loss of the metal and the subsequent cost of replacement but also causes upset and disruption to members of the community at their place of worship. Opal work with law enforcement across the country as well as partners to combat this type of criminality.

“We would urge anyone with any information in relation to this type of crime to report it to their local Police force via 101 or alternatively they can do so anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”


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