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MPs chart rise in metal-theft

Church roofs are particularly vulnerable, APPG says


Warning notice on a church downpipe, in Wilby, Northamptonshire


THE theft of valuable metals has risen to alarming levels, at a cost to the UK economy of more than £4.3 billion over the past ten years, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Metal, Stone and Heritage has revealed.

Church roofs are particularly vulnerable. During the same period, thefts of lead increased by eight per cent, from 5947 to 6446.


In the group’s latest report, Tackling Metal Theft — for which evidence was given by Church of England officials and professionals in the metals and infrastructure sector — organised-crime groups are listed as being responsible for most thefts of catalytic converters, copper, and lead, which are then sold on unlawfully.



"Church roofs are particularly vulnerable. During the same period, thefts of lead increased by eight per cent, from 5947 to 6446."

The number of thefts by material group 2013-2022 (PND data) Source: OPAL

Year

Catalytic Convertor

Lead

Cable

Steel

Aluminium

Iron

Solar Farm

2013

10,049

5,947

1,803

309

132

223

2

2014

7,259

4,785

1,416

247

120

174

7

2015

5,611

4,290

1,052

288

105

193

19

2016

2,214

4,549

993

294

97

178

14

2017

2,553

5,706

1,396

355

107

147

17

2018

3,983

6,099

1,393

397

158

211

21

2019

21,996

6,762

1,816

416

121

219

20

2020

34,735

5,259

1,256

308

70

163

45

2021

33,296

5,544

1,276

309

81

136

15

2022

27,195

6,446

1,663

386

115

242

35




Examples of church vandalism and crime in the report include worshippers’ being “left fearful when their place of worship had its lead roof torn off; another had a 500-year-old silver chalice stolen”. Elsewhere, “mourners had to deal with the heartbreak of bronze plaques that commemorated loved ones being ripped out and stolen.”


The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, who chairs the APPG, said: “The numerous applications of metals make them valuable, yet their value makes them attractive to steal. As Second Church Estates Commissioner, I often hear reports of some of our most cherished churches having had the lead stripped off their roofs.”

The report says that, “in 2018, 20 tonnes of lead were taken from a church in Bedfordshire by thieves posing as tradesmen.”


Uninsured losses must be met locally by PCCs and the community. St Andrew’s, Little Massingham, is still trying to replace the lead stolen from its roof almost six years ago. Through a series of local events, the community has raised £14,000 towards a target of £150,000.


In December, the National Churches Trust (NCT) distributed grants valued at £1.4 million to churches around the country where lead had been stolen from roofs (News, 8 December 2023) and others in need of urgent repairs.

MPs have found that the number of successful prosecutions is not keeping track with the scale of the crimes. They have now called on the Home Office to take action. The MPs’ ten recommendations include a new working group and better enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealer Act.


The Act, passed in 2013, was strongly supported by Lord Chartres, then Bishop of London, who wrote to all MPs asking them to back the legislation and give “help and hope. . . to communities whose local memorials and places of worship continue to be targeted by metal thieves” (News, 16 November 2012). Lord Chartres is a Vice-Chair of the APPG on Metal, Stone, and Heritage Crime, and last year became a Vice-President of the NCT.



The Report 'Tackling Metal Theft' by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Metal, Stone and Heritage Crime can be found here.


Take our UK Heritage and Religious crime quiz below to see how much you know about churches, metal theft and religious crime in the UK.



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