Churches fight metal thieves with new labelling technology

Tens of thousands of Church of England buildings have now taken measures to combat metal thieves intent on stealing their valuable lead fittings.

Over the past few years the problem for the Church has been costly with thieves stripping lead and other valuable metals from church roofs.

However, now more than 30,000 of Britain’s 44,000 churches have had their roofs coated in a layer of ‘nanopaint’, which is visible only under ultraviolet light.

Using the unique ‘label’ formed by microscopic particles, police will be able to identify church lead found in any haul of suspect scrap. The identification can even be made if the stolen metal has been melted down.

The new technology has already led to the arrest of three thieves who were found to have stolen lead from the roof of St Leonard’s church in Colchester They were caught after police identified the lead stolen from the church on sale at a scrap yard by using the new technology.

The labelling technology is called ‘SmartWater’, and was developed by a former police officer and his chemist brother.

Figures reveal the extent of the problem. In 2002 just 12 insurance claims were made for metal thefts from churches, but by 2008 this had risen above 2,500, with individual insurance claims often exceeding £100,000 due to the damage caused to the churches during the thefts.

Ecclesiastical Insurance has sent every church it insures a SmartWater pack and told church ministers that any insurance claims for metal thefts would be capped to £5,000 unless the new nanopaint was used.