THE PCC of the 14th-century All Saints’, Houghton Conquest, near Bedford, who face a £400,000 bill to replace stolen lead roofing, can expect only about £15,000 from their insurers. The parish treasurer, Joyce Bullock, told the BBC that they could have claimed more, had a roof alarm been fitted, but they had had no funds to buy one.
The entire roof of the Grade I listed church was stripped this month in a theft described as “one of the worst” seen by the architect who assessed the damage, Michael Dales. The story attracted worldwide headlines, and Mrs Bullock has already received donations totalling £1000 — including one from New York.
She said: “It is always hard to raise funds in a small rural area, but we will do it,” and she expects grant applications to become her “full-time job”.
A temporary cover has been fitted to make the church water-tight, which, a PCC member, Gary Mudd, said, should give them “a couple of years to get things sorted out”. The PCC is exploring options with English Heritage, including one that is used in other vandalised churches, of replacing the lead with stainless steel, which is less attractive to metal thieves — and less expensive.
Bedfordshire Police said that detectives were “looking at a number of lines of inquiry” in connection with the theft.
The insurer Ecclesiastical’s church-operations director, Michael Angell, said: “Since 2015, we have seen an increase in large thefts perpetrated by organised gangs, which involved the removal of entire church roofs. This trend has not declined, and as the value of lead continues to increase, it is fair to assume that the volume and severity of incidents of metal theft will also increase.
“We therefore encourage churches to remain vigilant and contact us, for help and advice, or refer to the preventative guidance which is available for all our church customers on our website.”
On Wednesday, the church operations director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, Michael Angell, urged churches to install security lighting, bollards, and an alarm system, as well as to use SmartWater marking. “Research shows that the use of SmartWater is a deterrent to criminal’s intent on stealing roof lead,” he said.
Churches are also encouraged to join Neighbourhood Watch Schemes. “Opportunistic theft of lead from churches has reduced significantly compared to the high volumes we were seeing during 2008-2011. We believe that this is due to a combination of improved general premises security and greater public and customer awareness.
“However, since 2015 we have seen an increase in large thefts perpetrated by organised gangs, which involved the removal of entire church roofs. This trend has not declined, and as the value of lead continues to increase, it is fair assume that the volume and severity of incidents of metal theft will also increase.”
For more information, visit: www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/church-metal-theft