Metal theft remains challenging for churches

22 March 2021

At Ecclesiastical we fully understand the impact metal theft has on the morale of our church customers and the wider community.

Lead on a cathedral roof

What's been happening?

The impact of COVID-19 has undoubtedly curtailed organised crime activities (at least temporarily) with fewer reported church metal losses in 2020. In addition, much has been achieved by organisations working together to help fight this crime.

Many customers are much more aware of the risk of metal theft. Positive moves are being made to further protect church properties, including decisions to replace stolen metal with less expensive replacement materials where possible.

Ecclesiastical supported Lincolnshire police by providing information and victim impact statements for their recent high profile prosecution of four offenders who stole metal from 35 churches between May 2018 and March 2020. Churches were attacked in East Anglia, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the South-West causing over £2million in damage and the culprits were eventually sentenced. These cases are extremely challenging to conclude and our sincere thanks must go to Lincolnshire Police for their efforts in pursuing these offenders.

Many churches have installed electronic roof alarm systems that have had an extremely positive impact on reducing the risk of attack. Grants are currently available for approved roof alarms from Benefact Trust and some county Historic Church Trusts. The VAT element on the cost of the installation can be recoverable via the Listed Places of Worship Scheme.

How we're continuing to support churches

  • Ecclesiastical support the Operation Opal team by sharing information and intelligence to tackle this crime. Opal is the National Police Intelligence unit for Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime.
  • We continue to fund the SmartWater registration cost for churches. For those who do not know, SmartWater is a forensic marking solution that is applied to metal. This deters metal offenders and helps aid the recovery of stolen metal.
  • We provide individual support to churches on how best to protect a church via our expert Risk Management surveyor team. Each church needs an individual response ranging from physical security measures and possible roof alarm protection to strong community awareness of this type of crime. Selecting the most appropriate approach and reviewing your protections is the best way to keep ahead of metal thieves.

Avoid complacency

We have come a long way since the rise of theft of metal to the significant and widespread levels of 2007 but it is important not to get complacent.

Our intelligence indicates as the UK enters more challenging times economically the local metal thief may be encouraged to be more active targeting small items of lead flashing, downpipes, gutters and valleys on roofs.

The theft of a small amount of metal can lead to significant, subsequent damage due to rainwater penetrating the building.

Review your church security

For most churches, basic security measures can have a very positive impact. Important measures include the following:

  • Carry out regular checks of roofs. Often you do not know the lead or other roof covering has been stolen until it rains.
  • Encourage members of the local community to keep a vigilant eye on the building and to report any suspicious activity immediately to the Police. Thieves will also often “case” their targets ahead of striking.
  • Ensure hedges and trees are cut back regularly so that the church is visible from the road.
  • Maximise surveillance levels. Consider installing sensor-operated security lighting at roof level where metal coverings are present.
  • Ensure any items that can aid access to roofs are removed e.g. waste bins, water butts, etc.
  • Store ladders securely, especially when building works using scaffolding are ongoing.
  • Apply anti-climb paint to drain pipes and roof guttering to restrict access to roofs. This should not be applied below a height of two metres and warning notices highlighting its use should be prominently displayed.
  • Remove any easy means thieves could use to remove stolen lead e.g. wheelbarrows and wheelie bins, to a secure place.
  • Restrict vehicular access to the site by locking entrance gates if possible.
  • Protect the lower section of lightning conductor ribbons using a metal cage or sheath securely fixed to the building fabric.
  • Remember the application of SmartWater, displaying prominent signage that alerts possible offenders that SmartWater is in use and the registration of SmartWater used (or an alternative forensically based security marking system approved by us) is a policy condition.