CHURCHES are coming under a battery of attacks from thieves who are targeting not only lead and copper from the church roof, but also heating-oil from the tank.
An increasing number of churches are finding that their heating system has broken down, and, when this is investigated, discover that fuel has been drained from the oil tank.
At St Michael’s, Theydon Mount, in Essex, oil worth more than £1200 has been drained from the tank in two attacks in the past three months. The Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Andrei Petrine, said that the church was trying to buy its fuel in small amounts, to cut down on its losses.
As oil prices have risen dramatically, there are also reports of domestic properties’ being targeted by fuel thieves.
The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) has published advice on the spate of thefts, which it has distributed to churches. It says that thieves will often use very crude devices to steal oil, including drilling holes in the sides of the tank and filling jerry-cans.
EIG advises churches to conceal the site of the tank with fencing, hedging, or walls, to install security-lighting over the tank, and to consider locking the valve.
Thieves have also redoubled their attacks on traditional targets, such as copper and lead from the roof. A 40-square-metre expanse of copper was stolen from the roof of St Peter’s, Torquay, causing an estimated £10,000 of damage.
At St Peter and St Paul’s, Grays Thurrock, in Essex, thieves made away with more than £10,000 of lead flashing, leaving the church exposed to the elements. The Team Rector, the Revd Darren Barlow, said: “The building is very vulnerable. This is the only listed building still in use in Grays. It is very significant to the community, and many of our older members are very upset.”
Manchester diocese, which experienced a large increase in the number of lead thefts last year, has launched a campaign to try to beat metal thieves at www.beatmetaltheft.org.
A spokesman for EIG said that claims from churches for thefts usually dropped in December and January, but this year had not: “It is due to the price of metals on the world market, which is linked to the state of the world’s economy. Thieves are usually stealing oil for their own personal use, but they take metal for its resale value. Oil thefts have increased, because of the cost of oil, but incidences of metal theft from churches have shot up.”