Thieves using Google Earth to target churches

Insurers Congregational and General are urging churches to be extra vigilant after a rise in the number of thefts of lead and other valuable metals from church buildings.

It warned that thieves are using technology such as Google Earth to scout out potential churches.

Figures indicate the thousands of churches have been affected by thieves wanting to strip their roofs of lead to sell on illegally to customers in emerging economies. While in 2002, the insurer received just 12 claims for metal thefts from churches, by 2008 that figure had leapt to more than 2,500.

The theft of lead from a church often comes with additional damage and the theft of raw materials from the church’s structural areas. Repeat theft is also a problem, with the insurer’s statistics revealing a one in three chance of churches being targeted again.

Congregational and General are advising churches to take preventative steps to protect their buildings from metal theft and capitalise on the increased goodwill over the Christmas period to engage the local community in helping to prevent future attacks.

With many churches open on certain days of the week only, it is encouraging churches to enlist the local church in being the eyes and ears of their buildings and report any suspicious behaviour.

Margaret Slater, marketing manager at Congregational, said: “There has been a general increase in metal theft, making it more important than ever for churches to be as proactive as possible to prevent theft.

“Our dedicated Church Alert website offers practical advice for churches, and we believe that encouraging members of the local community, whether they attend their local church or not, to keep their eyes open and report any suspicious behaviour immediately will help prevent future occurrence of this type of theft.”