37 metal theft crimes were committed every month from churches alone in the last year

Our her­itage is dis­ap­pear­ing before our eyes”

A sur­vey of report­ed met­al thefts from her­itage sites across the UK indi­cates that the coun­try is see­ing an alarm­ing ris­ing trend in met­al theft, leav­ing hun­dreds of his­tor­i­cal build­ings with repair bills they can­not meet.

On the eve of the first major con­fer­ence on met­al crime by the British Trans­port Police (BTP) and the Nation­al Police Chiefs Coun­cil (NPCC), the sur­vey, con­duct­ed by VPS Secu­ri­ty Ser­vices, found 100’s of reports of church roofs being stripped of lead in the 12 months lead­ing up to April this year, aver­ag­ing 37 inci­dents a month.

These are only the thefts that are report­ed as met­al theft by insur­ers and the police.” explains Nicholas Bye, a VPS Secu­ri­ty Ser­vices Direc­tor. They amount to a dai­ly strip­ping of valu­able met­als from her­itage sites across the UK. The actu­al num­bers are prob­a­bly even high­er, because report­ing meth­ods across the UK are incon­sis­tent. Lead, cop­per, nick­el and oth­er met­als have all risen in val­ue this year, but the scrap met­al val­ue is still piti­ful­ly small when com­pared to the cost of replace­ment and repair. Beyond the sheer cost, though, is the impact on our her­itage. It is dis­ap­pear­ing before our eyes.” 

One strik­ing exam­ple was when 20 tonnes of lead – the entire roof – was stolen from All Saints’ Church in Houghton Con­quest, Bed­ford­shire last Octo­ber. It is esti­mat­ed that at the prices then it might bring the thieves £25,000 but will cost the church £400,000 to replace.

The VPS Secu­ri­ty Group also high­light­ed last year the dra­mat­ic increase in cable theft from the rail­ways net­work report­ed by the British Trans­port Police (BTP).

Rail­way pas­sen­gers now also suf­fer on a dai­ly basis as met­al thieves get organ­ised and live cable theft rose 85% in one year” says VPS’s Bye. If you com­bine all rail­way cable theft, the 452 inci­dents rep­re­sent an increase from five thefts a week the pre­vi­ous year to more than one day now. The cost to the police, the rail­way oper­a­tors and of course to the tens of thou­sands of pas­sen­gers whose jour­neys are dis­rupt­ed will run into the mil­lions. Since the Scrap Met­al Mer­chants Act was intro­duced in 2013, when cash trans­ac­tions were banned, police and local author­i­ty resources into tack­ling met­al theft has plum­met­ed, and as a con­se­quence, there’s a risk that the cur­rent ris­ing trend could go large­ly unchecked. Hope­ful­ly the met­al crime con­fer­ence this Fri­day will point the way to pro­mot­ing solu­tions.” Nicholas Bye concluded.

The con­fer­ence, Met­al Crime – The Hid­den Cost”, will focus on the far-reach­ing impli­ca­tions of Met­al crime, and action that can be tak­en to pre­vent it, and is run by the BTP, with the NPCC, on Fri­day May 31st at Birmingham’s Tal­ly Ho Con­fer­ence Centre.