Home Office petition to fight back against church lead theft

Every so often we hear of the disruption of train services because thieves have made off with cabling. These sorts of actions are the tip of a huge iceberg.

Metal theft accounts for 7,000 to 10,000 crimes a month across the nation, says British Transport Police spokesperson.

Increasingly, however, it is churches being hit and that is why the Diocese of London is urging people to sign the Home Office epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/406

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, one church in Woodchurch in Kent has been hit 10 times. One in Ealing has thieves return four times. Churches make ideal targets for metal theft: often large areas of roofing, located away from busy areas. According to police sources Google Earth is making it much easier for would be thieves to spot easy targets.

It’s a terrible problem. Ecclesiastical (EIG) , the biggest insurer of churches has been forced to cap payouts for metal theft at £10,000 in the face of 1,900 damage claims from January to August this year.

So, in Woodhurch church people have been lumbered with a bill for £50,000 while at Ealing the congregation had to find £30,000. An EIG spokesperson agrees this sort of catastrophe can plunge churches whose finances are fragile into bankruptcy.

So what is the cause of the problem and what can be done about it? Boom conditions in China, India and Brazil have created an incredible demand for lead and copper with prices soaring. With it has come a boom in lead and copper thefts from churches. The scrap metal trade is traditionally a cash-in-hand business. It means it is notoriously hard to create an audit trail on sales.

The Church of England has suggested ways to guard against roof plunderers, including the removal of ladders that could make it easy to get onto church roofs and the restrict vehicle access.

"It is also vital to check your roof regularly, for example with binoculars from the ground, as the theft of a roof might go unnoticed during dry weather," a Church of England statement advises.

With the soaring cost of copper and lead, English Heritage (an agency that protects England's historic and cultural environment) has relaxed its usual policy of always requiring exactly the same replacement material when buildings and monuments have been damaged or robbed.

Now the Church of England is seeking an amendment to the Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964 that would prohibit cash transactions in metal. It would mean payment would need to be by cheque or directly into a bank account. The existence of an audit trail would be a major disincentive to metal thieves.