'Highest ever' lead theft levels threaten community churches

The church buildings we so often take for granted throughout the UK are under threat because of the massive rise in metal theft - a national church insurer has warned today drastic action needs to be taken to combat the theft of lead from church roofs.

Congregational & General Insurance, whose claims related to church lead theft increased by 86 per cent last year, said that the recent UK metal theft spree could push the left of lead to its highest ever level.

The company, which has a 'Church Alert' lead theft prevention scheme put together in consultation with Crimestoppers, says that it is not just the initial act of theft but the knock-on effect of water damage to church interiors because of leaks that often go unnoticed.

With lead prices rising sharply due to fierce demand from emerging economies such as China, the insurer has witnessed some claims approaching £100,000, as churches often find themselves the victims of consequential damage and loss following theft of raw materials from roofs, guttering and other structural areas.

Carlo Cavaliere, Managing Director of Congregational, said: "The current dramatic rise in metal theft across the UK is not good news for Britain's churches - last year we had one of the highest ever instances of lead theft and it could be higher this year."

Following close consultation with Crimestoppers, Congregational's Church Alert website - www.churchalert.co.uk - offers top tips and best practice on how to minimise the risk of lead theft.

The insurer has also teamed up with top anti-theft paint manufacturer, Coo-Var who will be offering Congregational policyholders the chance to purchase their specialist 'Vandolene' anti-climb paint at a discounted rate.

Speaking about Congregational's 'Church Alert' scheme, Carlo added: "We firmly believe that prevention is better than cure and our dedicated campaign should help all our church policyholders to minimise their risk of becoming the latest victims of this fast-growing problem, even if they don't personally feel their church is at risk.

"Whilst we want to galvanise churches into action, we are also acutely aware that the church buildings that cover the UK are often seen as a focal point for the local community and we would encourage everyone, whether they attend a church or not, to keep their eyes open and report any suspicious behaviour immediately."

The key message for Church Alert is prevention and the insurer is keen to underscore the importance of engaging the local community as the threat of lead theft extends further than just those attending church buildings on a Sunday morning.

With some church buildings open only on select days throughout the week, Congregational aims to encourage churches to enlist local communities to become the eyes and ears of their church buildings and to report any suspicious behaviour without delay.

Other practical, preventative advice includes use of anti-theft paint, improving lighting, as well as defensive planting of thorny bushes. Posters, leaflets and newsletters have been produced and they can also be downloaded from the dedicated website.