Metal Theft

Advice on assessing your particular risk, preventive measures, and what to do if you do suffer a lead theft

Devastating roof metal thefts from two of our churches occurred in May 2015.  This demonstrates that organised and ruthless gangs are highly active across the country, despite tighter legislation over scrap metal dealers in the UK (thieves are now sending metal directly abroad).  They will strike again in our diocese and so PCCs need to be ready for that.  Opportunistic theft of lightning conductors and internal church metal also remains a significant threat. 

Physical security for roof metal

Physical security

The following guidance notes contain a great deal of information about practical measures parishes can take to deter metal theft:

Roof Alarm Systems

A monitored roof alarm system is well worth considering and you should discuss with your insurer whether this is the optimum solution in your particular case.  Ecclesiastical Insurance will increase insurance cover where a system is installed to their approved specification. 

The systems use wireless motion detectors and can therefore in most cases be installed easily without the need for a faculty, though you still need to obtain authorisation in advance via the DAC.  Additionally, some firms offer wireless systems which also incorporate CCTV linked to a monitoring centre to avoid the trouble and expense of security staff attending the scene for false activations by birds, weather, etc. which can be an issue with "blind" alarm systems.  Parishes should always discuss any specific proposals with their insurer in the first instance.

Contractors not already approved by Ecclesiastical can apply to become accredited. Suitable accreditation and experience are also in the parish's interest: you don't want to be spending money on a system which is not effective, or employ a firm with little sympathy for historic buildings.  The parish must seek advice from their church architect if their building is listed, to ensure that any proposed fixings etc. would not damage historic fabric.  Whether or not the building is listed, parishes must send details (including a church plan showing locations of sensors, control panels and wiring routes) in advance to the DAC Office who will advise on any necessary permissions, consultations or other issues.

SmartWater

The Smartwater forensic coding system is a requirement of most insurance policies. It is just one of the tools available to parishes and it should be used in conjunction with other security measures: it is not a deterrent just on its own, but is useful for securing prosecutions in the wider fight against metal theft.

If you suffer lead theft

  • Inform the police - dial 101 (non-emergency) or 999 (if theft is in progress)
  • Contact your church architect for advice on immediate waterproofing measures
  • Inform your insurer
  • Inform the DAC Office or Archdeacon
  • Undertake temporary repairs (normally in felt).  Your architect can advise on suitable contractors.
  • Prepare a scheme for permanent repairs under the guidance of your architect.  The DAC recommends against using the same material as was stolen unless you can take significant security measures to guard against repeat theft. For listed buildings, you will need to agree changes in roof material with the local planners and with any relevant statutory consultees.  Your architect will advise you on that. If the temporary repairs won't hold for the 2+ months it takes to process a faculty application, then you can apply for an Interim Licence - contact the DAC Office.

You must not undertake any permanent material change without first obtaining any appropriate faculty authorisation.

Alternative Materials to Lead

Where roof coverings would remain vulnerable to repeat theft, the DAC and heritage bodies are sympathetic, in principle, to suitable alternative materials.  Parishes should speak in the first instance with their Church Architect who will advise on the best option.  They then need to consult with the relevant heritage bodies and their local planning department, as well as with the DAC. The Church Buildings Council (CBC) has issued a useful guidance note on alternative roofing materials.  The normal lead alternative is terne-coated stainless steel but parishes need to bear in mind that it tends to be noisy in rain or hail, as highlighted in the CBC guidance.

Insurance

Insurance cover may be reduced whilst scaffolding is erected around any part of the church building - for example, see Ecclesiastical Insurance's information on scaffolding cover. You should consult your insurer in advance about necessary security arrangements. 

Reporting lead theft and other crime

Submitting a Heritage Crime Impact Statement to the Police can help to bring the impact of such crime to the attention of the courts.

Further Information

Ecclesiastical Insurance  - a very useful risk assessment tool for parishes.