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Be Prepared for Rising Metal Theft Crime

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The cost and impact of metal theft is once again in the news after four men were sentenced to a total of over 19 years in prison for stealing lead from more than 20 churches across the UK between 2018 and 2020. Specialist insurer Ecclesiastical has estimated the cost impact of these thefts to have been over £2 million due to the damage caused to targeted countryside churches. The insurer’s risk management team is encouraging churches to take precautions to avoid becoming crime victims.

Metal theft is an ongoing issue that unfortunately is only likely to increase as a result of the developing economic decline. This spate of thefts has highlighted the enormous cost of the damage caused by organised criminal gangs to our valuable heritage properties. Also, how these thefts have a huge impact on communities in which local churches play a vital role.

Office for National Statistics

Concerns have been raised regarding the most recent (March 2020) ONS statistics on metal theft which reported a small year-on-year decline. It has been observed that ONS data doesn’t accurately reflect the apparent change in the types of metal theft offences. Whereas metal theft crimes previously tended to be individual, relatively low-value offences this has changed to well organised criminal gangs stripping the lead from multiple church roofs or targeting valuable infrastructure such as power lines.

west midlands police handle metal theft
West Midlands Police Tackling Metal Theft

ONS data shows a notable and worrying growth in what is called infrastructure related metal theft. These crimes refer to the removal of metal that has a direct impact on the functioning of infrastructure and/or fabric of a building or machinery. This includes all metals that are connected to live services such as: water, heating, electricity, other service cabling and railway cabling, roofing lead, catalytic converters removed from vehicles and manhole covers. Non-infrastructure-related metal theft refers to the illegal removal of metal that doesn’t impact the functioning of infrastructure and/or fabric of a building or machinery including metal that’s not connected to services such as redundant metal, war memorial plaques, metal fencing and gates.

It has been noted that some companies are simply not reporting what can sometimes be high-value thefts, skewing the ONS data. It is thought that in some cases this is due to high insurance excess values and in others may be due to concerns over reputational damage. It’s particularly worrying to hear that British Transport Police have recorded a massive year-on-year increase in metal thefts from 459 to 850 incidents, which isn’t reflected in the overall ONS metal theft metrics.

Devastating Impact of Metal Theft

Metal thefts, perpetrated by organised criminal gangs, are putting the criminals and others at risk. In one recent case a gang of copper thieves stole around 57 miles of cabling from Northern Powergrid, leaving 45,000 homes without power. The gang, based in Castleford, West Yorkshire, had no knowledge of how to work with live power lines. They used bolt cutters attached to extendable poles to cut electrical power lines, putting themselves at high risk of electrocution and potentially causing harm to anyone who came across the damage they had caused.

church rooftop vulnerable to metal theft
Church Rooftops Vulnerable to Theft

And metal theft is now recognised as one of the main issues putting our valuable churches at risk. The latest Historic England list of Buildings at Risk shows that, of the 90 recent entries, 37 are on the list as a result of crime. Whereas in the past, lead-theft may have involved relatively small amounts of guttering or flashing these days organised criminal gangs are stripping entire church roofs and targeting multiple buildings. This causes enormous collateral damage to valuable historic structures which is often irreparable. Medieval plasterwork suffers moisture damage, historic timbers become soaked and valuable items within churches including organs and furniture can be damaged beyond repair. This has a hugely upsetting impact on local communities.

Anti Metal Theft Precautions

With the UK facing recession it’s likely that metal theft offences will increase so it’s essential that preventative measures are put in place wherever possible.

Ecclesiastical Insurance provide excellent guidance for churches in dealing with the threat of metal theft. But it’s important to note that other buildings and locations, such as schools and construction sites, are also targeted by organised criminal gangs seeking metals they can sell on the black market.

anti climb paint
Anti Climb Paint

Here’s a summary of the key precautions that shouldn’t be overlooked:

  • Don’t make it easy for criminals to access your rooftops or metalwork. Remove any water butts, storage sheds or other easily climbed structures, never leave ladders outdoors and when scaffolding is in use, make certain it is secure.
  • Strengthen perimeter security by ensuring gates are locked and all walls, fences and hedges are robust and secure. We provide an extensive range of anti climb security products, widely used to bolster perimeter security. 
  • Use anti-climb paint on walls, drain-pipes and other areas that might be used to gain access, as recommended by the UK Police Force and insurance companies (including Ecclesiastical). Always ensure that paint is not applied below a height of 2 metres and prominently display appropriate warning signs.
  • Prevent pipes and poles from being climbed using spiked anti climb pipe collars or enclose pipework in anti climb downpipe covers.
  • Install movement triggered security lighting, especially around roof areas where valuable metalwork exists.
  • Install CCTV security cameras along with appropriate warning signage.
  • Identify any areas in which criminals can potentially hide their activity and remove obstacles providing concealment such as shrubs and trees.
  • Establish a routine to regularly inspect roof areas to ensure that if theft has occurred its quickly detected and repairs to prevent further damage are quickly carried out.

Organised criminal gangs are on the lookout for opportunities to steal valuable metal from anywhere they can gain access. Properties including churches, schools, construction sites, warehouses, utility sites and many others need to be acutely aware of the growing threat and take appropriate precautions to remain safe and secure.

If you need help with any aspects of site security and anti climb precautions please give us a call on 01273 475500. We are always happy to help.

This message was added on Thursday 14th January 2021

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