Lead theft: churches seen as ‘easy pickings’ for thieves

As the scrap value of lead continues to increase, churches are being encouraged to improve their security measures as the recession drives incidents of metal theft to a record high. With this in mind, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) and Lead Sheet Association (LSA) have teamed up to provide some practical advice on protecting churches and faith buildings this winter.

With churchyards often secluded or left unattended for long hours, both day and night, churches are often seen as ‘easy pickings’ for thieves, who steal valuable lead from church roofs to sell on at a high price. The impact of the recession has, of course, caused an increase in such crime.

James Kelly
James Kelly - Chief Executive of the BSIA

James Kelly, Chief Executive of the BSIA, comments: “Low budgets and poor security measures are two main factors exposing churches to the risk of metal theft. While the cost of installing security measures is sometimes seen as a ‘luxury’ expense, making uninformed decisions when sourcing security can often lead to costly repercussions in the long run. As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, there are now plenty of low-budget, yet highly effective, products and services on the market to help protect cost-conscious churches.”

The impact of lead theft has far-reaching consequences for churches. Aside from the obvious damage to the roof, damage can also be caused to joists and timbers, as well as to the many valuable internal furnishings that are left exposed to the elements as a result. Regular use of the buildings may also be interrupted, with scheduled weddings, funerals and regular services often affected, driving the true cost of lead theft even higher.

Lead flashing marked with unique taggant
Lead flashing marked with unique taggant

Simple security measures such as CCTV, perimeter protection, motion detection and property marking solutions can all be utilised either independently or together as an integrated solution to help historic buildings reduce the risk of falling victim to metal theft. BSIA members have a wide-ranging experience in protecting heritage buildings and churches from lead theft, with one BSIA member recently securing three Wiltshire churches using an integrated solution comprising both motion detectors and surveillance systems.

Steve Hopkins, the engineer in charge of the projects, commented: “If anyone tries to take materials from the roofs now, they would be detected immediately. A telephone system operating wirelessly with a SIM card is programmed to dial up to ten numbers, ensuring that the police and others can be on the scene within minutes.

Forensic property marking solutions are also proving extremely effective in tracing stolen lead. Recently, police in Colchester detained three men after lead marked with a BSIA member’s unique taggant solution was found in their vehicle. In Durham, police tracked down stolen lead from St Mary’s Church in Cockfield even after it had been sold to scrap merchants, and the thief in question is currently awaiting sentencing.

Douglas E Weston CBE
Douglas E Weston CBE

Douglas Weston, Chief Executive of the Lead Sheet Association, explains what makes lead so valuable: “Lead is the most recycled and recovered building material in use today. It will last longer and age more beautifully then any of its synthetically-produced substitutes, which can be known to fail within 20 years. With its low melting point and CO2 emissions, lead is a very green, environmentally-friendly product as far as production is concerned. It will outlast any alternative building materials making it best value, both in monetary and environmental terms.”

With many church commissioners largely unfamiliar with the procurement of security products and services, finding reliable advice from a reputable supplier is all-important. Members of the BSIA provide over 70% of UK security products and services and adhere to strict quality standards. With services ranging from CCTV to perimeter protection, BSIA members can provide effective, easy-to-install security measures to help prevent lead theft.

BSIA members are happy to provide advice and guidance on suitable security measures to protect buildings from metal theft. To locate your nearest BSIA member, visit http://www.bsia.co.uk/company-finder

To find out more about the benefits of using Lead Sheet, visit the Lead Sheet Association’s website at www.leadsheet.co.uk or by calling 01622 872432.

BSIA Website