27 Feb 2011

Rising metal theft hits UK churches and transport

Home Affairs Correspondent

As the price of lead and copper soars, Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies reports on the growing number of thefts from British heritage sites including churches as insurance claims rocket.

Churches have become a key target for metal thieves as the market value of copper and lead continues to rise.

In one night alone at At Wrentham St Nicholas in Suffolk criminals stripped a section of roof completely of its lead covering – weighing six tons. The vicar there fears it will cost at least £20,000 to replace.

Reverend Leonard Payne, from the Anglican Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, told Channel 4 News: “If this had been a 20 to 30 thousand pound robbery of a bank there’d be the CID crawling all over the place – the problem is they’re still dealing with it as a theft of scrap metal.

“Well it’s not, it’s far more serious than that.”

The British Transport Police now describe cable theft as their ‘biggest priority after the terrrorist threat’.

Insurance claims by churches have risen dramatically. In 2003 there were just 10 claims. Since 2007 there have been 7,500 claims at a cost of an estimated £23m.

Most of the stolen scrap metal in UK eventually finds its way to the Far East. Its value has increased sharply over the last decade. The price of lead peaked in 2008 and it is heading back in that direction.

Home Affairs Correspnodent Andy Davies writes:
The problem of metal theft has been highlighted many times before, but usually in the context of transport infrastructure.

Now the Church of England, together with English Heritage and the National Trust, want to raise the profile of their experience of metal theft - or "heritage crime" as they call it.

Churches may be among some of the easiest of targets, many of them set in isolated locations with minimal CCTV coverage, but still the scale of the theft - according to church figures - is staggering.

And it's not just a case of making an insurance claim to pay for the damage. The company which insures most of the churches in England, Ecclesiastical, has reportedly resorting to "capping" its payouts now, so great are the number of claims.

The Home Office says it's been working with various sectors to "develop a multi-agency plan" to tackle metal theft. Tony Baldry MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner, says "we don't need any more statistics to tell us there's a really big problem here"... His message to the Home Office is basically: Get on with it!

In London, part of the underground train network recently stalled after signal cables were stolen.

Rail yards have been targeted repeatedly with Network Rail said to have spent £35m on dealing with this type of crime in the last five years.

The British Transport Police now describe cable theft as their “biggest priority after the terrrorist threat”.