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Tornado sweeps away metal thefts

12 October 2012

GAVIN DRAKE

A COMBINATION of falling metal prices, increased security measures, and a co-ordinated approach by the police and local authorities has resulted in a significant fall in the incidence of metal thefts from churches and other buildings.

Operation Tornado includes greater enforcement activity by the police and a voluntary commitment from metal-dealers to retain copies of photographic identification from people who sell scrap metal.

A conservation officer with the Church Buildings Council, Dr David Knight, described Operation Tornado as a "very significant development in metal theft". Some police forces, he said, were reporting falls in thefts of up a half as a result of the "very effective co-ordinated police response, working with other enforcement agencies".

Section 146 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is expected to come into effect in December. This bans cash payment for the sale of scrap metal, except in the case of itinerant dealers. Under Operation Tornado, many dealers have already introduced a voluntary ban on cash payments.

Ecclesiastical, which insures many Church of England buildings, says that it has experienced a fall in claims. It dealt with 770 claims during the first nine months of this year, compared with 2100 for the same period last year. Claims this year, so far, total £1.3 million, compared with £4.5 million for the whole of last year.

A spokeswoman for Ecclesiastical, Katri Link, said that she hoped that the trend would continue; "but metal prices are beginning to rise again. There is much wider public awareness now, and people are being far more vigilant. The police are also acting on it more now than in the past."

Besides rolling out the use of the forensic-marking system SmartWater to every church, Ecclesiastical is funding the use of wireless roof-alarms. It says that these have also had an impact on the reduction in claims.

A Private Member's Bill that is designed to tighten restrictions on the sale of scrap metal is due to receive its Third Reading next month.

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