UK churches warned of rise in metal theft

Churches across the UK are being urged to remain vigilant amid fears of a rise in metal theft. The warning comes from specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, which saw a fall in theft of metal claims during the pandemic, but says criminal activity is likely to rise again over the coming months.

The introduction of UK-wide Covid restrictions limited opportunities for criminal gangs to steal metal, including lead and copper, from the country’s heritage buildings. With restrictions now largely gone and against a challenging economic backdrop, there are worries there could be a spike in criminal activity.

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 2022. Last year a gang was successfully prosecuted for a spate of thefts in and around Lincolnshire, with sentences totalling over 22 years for the crimes committed which caused damage of over £2m.

Ecclesiastical is urging churches across the country to review their security arrangements. The insurer recommends measures such as security lights and roof alarms, as well as installing additional lighting, anti-climb paint and CCTV. 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 in place as part of its policy, which has proven to help with successful prosecution of thieves.

Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “There is a risk that the continuing economic downturn in the UK and high value of scrap metal could see an increase in theft of metal from historical buildings such as churches, which is why it is vital that 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 vital that churches across the country take steps to protect themselves from thieves and follow our guidance which is available through our website.”

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