‘Little left to steal’ as churches suffering fewer metal thefts

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IMPROVED security measures at Anglican churches in Yorkshire have helped produce a substantial fall in the number of precious metal thefts, according to new figures.

The value of claims for the theft of metals has fallen at dioceses across Yorkshire, according to insurer Ecclesiastical which says roof alarms and security signs are deterring thieves.

But church leaders say there is very little metal left to take at some churches.

Many are using lead substitute material, with no scrap value, only to have now noticed that thieves have turned their attention to alternatives, stealing valuable stone.

In Bradford there have been fewer than 10 claims, costing £7,000, up to October this year compared with 40 claims worth £70,000 in 2010.

In the Ripon and Leeds diocese claims to October amounted to around £10,000 compared with 40 claims worth £40,000 in 2010.

Last year there were 60 claims worth £95,000 in Wakefield but so far this year the total claimed is around £30,000. In Sheffield the bill this year is around £40,000 compared with more than £100,000 last year.

Claims totalling nearly £140,000 were made by York churches last year but up to October the amount was around £30,000.

Ecclesiastical credited its own campaign to fit roof alarms for helping bring down the number of thefts.

Alarms have been fitted at Anglican churches across the country, including in Yorkshire. Some churches have simply installed signs which warn thieves about roof alarms.

The insurer provided £500,000 to install alarms for free on some of the most badly-affected churches.

Church warden Solveig Rawlings, of St Mary’s Church at Gomersal, near Bradford, said using lead substitute had helped reduce thefts.

After around 12 thefts over just a few years, St Mary’s has not been targeted for several months, although two stone gargoyles were taken in the spring.

“Originally we did replace the stolen lead with more lead because we are a Grade II listed building. We got permission to use substitute lead which discouraged further incidents.”

St Mary’s requires roof repairs costing around £200,000 partly as a result of damage done by thieves.

Half the money has been provided by English Heritage but some of the work will have to wait until the rest of the cash can be raised.

A roof alarm, funded by the insurer, is being fitted.

Mrs Rawlings welcomed the reduction in thefts.

“It’s been so disheartening when you see they (thieves) have been again. It’s not just the claims, it is the damage that is done to the roof, with loose tiles and leaks into the building.

“We were having three or four claims a year; it was happening every two or three months. The last theft was in late spring, so we have had a few months without anything. We had two stone gargoyles at the entrance which were chiselled out and stolen.”

Insurers believe improved security has played an important part in driving down theft.

Police crackdowns on rogue scrap dealers and a new law against cash transactions have also helped deter the criminals.

John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s director of church insurance, said: “While it’s not possible to say precisely how much of an impact our roof alarms campaign has played in this reduction, it’s certainly a contributory factor and these figures are a very welcome trend.

“In the past, any reductions in metal theft have been linked to a drop in the price of scrap metal, but this year, metal prices have not reduced significantly while thefts from churches plummeted.

“That suggests other factors are coming into play, one of which is our roof alarms campaign.

“It’s much too early for churches to let their guard down, however. Until we can build up a fuller picture of what’s happening, we can’t be sure what’s affecting the level of metal theft and whether this is a short-term aberration or a long-term change in behaviour. Clearly we’re hoping it’s the latter.”