The churches warned of “senseless” crime that “penetrates deeply into society”.
A major historic building insurer has warned the county’s churches to remain vigilant for metal theft during the summer months.
Ecclestiastic Insurance, the specialist insurance provider, says the pandemic has caused a drop in metal theft claims during the pandemic, but as the latest Covid-related restrictions are lifted there are fears of a counter-reactive surge.
The supplier says there is “high demand for copper and lead” which is “driven by a rise in metal prices”. In the first quarter of 2022, several churches were already affected by theft. Just last year a gang was successfully prosecuted for a series of thefts in Dorset and beyond, with prison sentences totaling over 22 years for the crimes committed, causing damage in excess of £2million. Another gang is currently awaiting trial.
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One of the ways churches can protect themselves more effectively is by reviewing their security arrangements, the company says. They recommend: “Measures such as security lights and roof alarms, as well as other measures such as installing additional lighting, anti-climbing paint and CCTV can also help prevent buildings from being seen as easy targets for criminals.”
“Some churches and heritage sites that have been victims of metal theft have replaced stolen materials with alternatives, such as stainless steel, that are less attractive to criminals.”
Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “Over the past two years claims have fallen but we believe the UK lockdowns have helped.
“There is a risk that the UK’s ongoing economic downturn and the high value of scrap metal could lead to a rise in metal theft from historic buildings such as churches, which is why it is important that they take steps to protect their premises from unscrupulous offenders.
“The theft of metal can have a devastating impact on churches and historic buildings. Aside from the cost of replacing the metal, there can be further damage from exposure to the elements which can cost thousands of pounds. It is important that Somerset Churches take steps to protect themselves from thieves and follow our guidance which is available on our website.”
Two years ago, Avon and Somerset Police conducted a joint inquiry with Lincolnshire Police, charging three men in connection with a spate of church metal thefts in 2018-2020. This crime spree resulted in several churches in the county being targeted, including St Mary’s Church in Glastonbury, St John the Baptist Church in Wellington and St Andrew & St Mary Church in Pitminster, which were targeted twice became.
“We have a south and north aisle that are fully recreated,” says Reverend Jim Fallon of St Andrew & St Mary Church, “so sad we knew we were going to be attacked twice.”
“In all they caused £56,000 worth of damage and it wasn’t just to the roof – there was significant damage to the interior too, the carpets were ruined and the organ had to spend £10,000 to fix that.”
The thieves had been disturbed so that they even ended up leaving a large amount of lead behind. The church could only resell it, and at a meager price.
“There are generations of connections to this church and all for just a few thousand pounds of scrap metal,” says Revd Fallon, “It’s senseless violence and what can you really do to protect yourself from it? Sitting on a church roof all day?”
With insurance payouts significantly less than the cost of repairs, many churches are relying on the strength of their congregations to raise funds for the necessary repairs.
“The waves went far into the community and they cut deep. It felt like an attack on the community. Luckily we have strong local ties here, even going back to the Pilgrims, so actually we had families in America who really helped us out there too,” says Revd Fallon.
A more comprehensive list of tips to reduce your risk of metal theft can be found on the church insurance website here.