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Tighter controls reduce metal thefts to six-year low

18 January 2013

by a staff reporter


In the open: St Margaret's, Quadring, in Lincolnshire was targeted for its lead. Six men were sentenced last month after striking at 20 churches in the East Midlands, leaving a £1-million repair bill 

In the open: St Margaret's, Quadring, in Lincolnshire was targeted for its lead. Six men were sentenced last month after striking at 20 church...

METAL thefts from churches fell last year to their lowest levels for six years, the church insurance company Ecclesiastical Insurance has announced.

The company's figures for 2012 show that there were 930 insurance claims from Anglican churches last year - significantly down from the 2011 high of 2600, which was the worst year on record. The cost of insurance claims fell from nearly £4.5 million in 2011 to £1.8 million in 2012.

Falls of 70 per cent and 50 per cent have been recorded in the dioceses of Truro and Exeter respectively, but Ecclesiastical - which insures 96 per cent of the churches in the UK - said that some areas were still badly affected by metal thefts.

The sharp decrease is attributed to a combination of falling metal prices, increased security measures, and a co-ordinated approach by the police and local authorities to tackling the crime. Scrap-metal dealers have also signed up to a voluntary code to retain copies of photographic identification from people who sell scrap metal.

A Private Member's Bill, put forward by the Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, which would outlaw cash payments for scrap metal and force scrap-metal dealers to go through an application process in order to qualify for a licence has been approved by MPs ( News, 16 November). It will start its journey through the House of Lords tomorrow, and is expected to receive Royal Assent and become law be- fore Easter.

The director of church insurance at Ecclesiastical, John Coates, said: "These figures are hugely encouraging, but it would be premature to predict the end of the epidemic of metal theft. [The figure of] 930 claims is still 930 too many. Metal-theft incidents are still running well above levels seen in the 1990s and early 2000s, when metal theft was so infrequent we saw fewer than ten church claims a year.

"There are still areas in the country where metal-theft incidents are far too frequent. For example, according to our claims statistics, the worst-affected areas for church metal-theft in 2012 were Salisbury, Chelmsford, Winchester, Chichester, and Birmingham dioceses.

"Even though the numbers are pointing in the right direction, it's going to take a concerted effort, for years to come, from businesses, politicians, and law-enforcement agencies to ensure our heritage is safe from these heartless, predatory criminals."

Ecclesiastical has also launched a campaign to fit electronic alarm-systems to church roofs - installing £500,000's worth of alarms free of charge in the worst-affected areas - and giving churches the SmartWater forensic marker-liquid, which enables the tracing of metal to its source.


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