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Heritage Watch helps churches tackle metal theft

Help stem the rise in metal theft from churches by reporting all incidents to Wales’ special heritage crime team, writes church warden and retired police officer, John Pavett

Metal theft has become an escalating national crime problem. The continuing economic downturn across the UK and high value of scrap metal has seen a significant increase in theft of metal from historic buildings. Churches in particular are popular targets for thieves, containing as they often do large amounts of metal such as lead and copper. The police advise that there have been at least 11 incidents involving theft of lead from church roofs in Gwent alone in the last 18 months. This compares to only one, similar attack in the previous two-year period. In May and June this year there was a spate of burglaries of places of worship in the Merthyr, Aberdare, Porth and Mountain Ash areas in which 10 offences took place.

It's therefore no exaggeration to describe this trend as a crime wave targeting church properties, a situation that almost certainly contributed to the decision made by the four Welsh police forces last year to form a collaborative, dedicated Heritage Unit and Watch strategy.

The reporting of incidents involving churches or other historic assets is the same across Wales. The police should be telephoned immediately on 999 if a crime is currently taking place. Where a recent incident is believed to have taken place involving a historic asset, this should be reported to the police by calling 101. Alternatively, non-urgent information can be reported via any of the four police force websites. Always quote 'Op Heritage Cymru', when reporting church or other historic asset crime.

Alternatively, Crimestoppers can be contacted to pass on information about criminal activity whilst remaining anonymous. Crimestoppers are contactable across Wales on 0800 555 111 or by visiting

Always quote 'Op Heritage Cymru', when reporting church or other historic asset crime.

Under the Heritage Watch Scheme any reports of Heritage Crime are followed up with contact from the Rural Crime Team (the Heritage Crime portfolio is managed by the Rural Crime Team) and free Smartwater packs and deterrent signage are provided to those that wish to participate. This service by the dedicated team also serves to provide participants with a point of contact should any further issues or concerns arise. The Heritage Watch co-ordinators meet regularly to discuss any emerging crime patterns or trends and this links in with the national intelligence hub for Heritage and Cultural Crime. Where emerging trends are identified, initiatives are introduced through the Watch schemes to disrupt activity where required.

There are also several initiatives run in partnership with Cadw, including educational programs for schools and youth groups aimed at raising awareness of heritage crime. The schemes also actively encourage community monitoring and reporting of issues. Finally and importantly, the Heritage Watch schemes link into the relevant police departments responsible for visiting scrap metal merchants across Wales, to check records and look for Smartwater marked items.

Ultimately and for good reason, the police are keen for the opportunity to participate in Heritage Watch to be extended to all churches across Wales.

Apply for security funding

The Home Office has launched a scheme to provide protective security at places of worship.

An application for the Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme can be made via the following link: Protective security schemes for places of worship (

Through this scheme, places of worship can apply for measures such as CCTV, secure fencing, and intruder alarms to be installed at their site to improve security against hate crime. All measures provided by the scheme will be supplied and installed free of charge.

The application portal is open until 15 August 2023. The Home Office will not be able to consider applications received after this date. For more information concerning eligibility, further details on what the schemes cover, the application process and supporting guidance, please visit: Protective security schemes for places of worship - GOV.UK (


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