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News  »  Police seek public?s help over thefts of lead from church roofs

   Police seek public?s help over thefts of lead from church roofs    6 May, 2016

Thieves may be posing as genuine workers as they systematically strip lead from church roofs across Cambridgeshire, police believe. Following thefts from at least five churches in as many weeks, Cambridgeshire Police has asked the public to help thwart what are believed to be gangs of organised criminals exporting stolen metal by the container-load.

The incidence of metal thefts from churches declined after commodity prices collapsed in the global financial crisis of 2008 and the following years, but seems now to be on the increase once more.

In Cambridgeshire, churches at West Wratting, Conington in South Cambridgeshire, Swavesey, Comberton and Abbots Ripton have recently fallen victim to metal thieves at a combined cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, prompting the Diocese of Ely, which covers parishes in Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk, to warn churches to take extra precautions.

Most churches use a chemical called Smart Water as a deterrent to metal theft, and the recent ban on dealers paying cash for metal significantly reduced casual thefts from churches. So the latest spate of thefts is probably the work of organised criminals, the diocese’s Church Buildings Consultant, Geoffrey Hunter, believes.

‘Stealing metal from churches is a particularly cruel and wasteful crime. It may not hit the headlines in the same way that theft from railways or the utilities does, but the impact on the hard-pressed volunteers who are the guardians of our churches can be devastating. The sense of powerlessness and ongoing vulnerability can be overwhelming.

‘Nearly all of the 344 churches in the diocese are listed buildings, the majority of them at Grade I, which puts them in the top 2.5 per cent of all historic buildings in the country in terms of their cultural and architectural importance.

‘Many of our churches are also bustling community hubs of today, successfully showing that historic church buildings can be adapted and developed to remain the important centres of life they always have been,’ he added.

‘Therefore, these attacks are, perhaps unwittingly, against our very society and its culture stretching back millennia. The damage caused can be irreparable and the risk is now deemed largely uninsurable, leaving remote rural communities with very large bills, which far outstrip any money the criminals make from selling on the metal.’

Mr Hunter is urging parishes to consider additional precautions, such as alarms on their church roofs, combined with warnings to would-be thieves that they are being filmed.

The police are urging communities to be on the lookout for seemingly innocent workpeople in the vicinity of vulnerable churches, and not just in isolated locations. They are urging anyone who sees metal theft in progress to dial 999 immediately, so that the thieves can be caught red-handed. The public is also asked to report ‘workmen’ near churches outside normal working hours on 01480 422888 or the police non-emergency number, 101.

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