In police raids on three scrap metal yards in Newark, stolen lead sheeting, flashing and drainpipes from a number of churches in Nottinghamshire have been found.
At the most recent raid last Friday (21 October), a significant haul of suspicious material was seized and is currently being examined. One man has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of possession of stolen goods.
Detective Sergeant Rob Lloyd, who is heading up Nottinghamshire Police’s metal theft reduction team, said: “We have seen church buildings scaled, roof tiles ripped from their fixings and protective lead sheeting, flashing and drain pipes stolen.
“It is obvious that these stolen materials are simply not scrap - the sheer quantities, quality, finish and workmanship make it obvious they are from crime.
“This isn’t just extremely disruptive and costly for the church, but a very dangerous pursuit for the perpetrator, especially as the weather turns wintery.”
St Martin’s Church, in Bilborough, was hit three times in six months while they were trying to restore the building.
Church warden Hilary Wheat said: “We were on the thieves’ hitlist for a while. Thousands of pounds worth of lead was stolen from our roof, including very old tiles featuring historical graffiti known as ‘plummers’ marks’ and ‘lovers’ marks’.
“We are delighted some of our lead has been retrieved as it shows that SmartWater and dedicated policing together does work, but we have had to repair the damage with clay ridges so as not to attract any more thieves back.”
SmartWater is a forensic liquid invisible to the naked eye but detectible under ultraviolet light. It cannot be washed off and includes a unique code registered to the owner of the property it is protecting.
Dave Reynolds, of SmartWater, said: “We went into one yard and found a stack of lead glowing like a Christmas tree.
“Once back at the lab it was analysed and found to be from churches in Nottinghamshire. Without SmartWater it would have just been lead, and completely untraceable.”
Kati Link from Ecclesiastical Insurance said stealing lead from a church roof can have a major impact on both the parish purse and the community.
She said: “Essentially £50 worth of stolen lead means £1000s worth of damage for the church. In many instances, the church warden first becomes aware of the theft when the rain leaks through to the interior, damaging not just the external fascia of the building but the internal contents as well. Wooden organs and pews are expensive to replace and can put churches out of use for a while.
“For many, the church is the heart of the community and when it is forced to close because of the thoughtlessness of thieves it can have a devastating effect.”
While insurance companies do not raise the premiums for churches following a metal theft, they can only provide them with £10,000 per year to replace materials and repair damage. Some churches falling victim to metal theft on a number of occasions can tot up a bill, which runs well in excess of this limit.
English Heritage has recently reviewed its policy on replacement materials for Listed Buildings.
Guidelines to replace stolen materials like-for-like has been relaxed in light of the rising trend of lead theft. Now churches hit by thieves are permitted to replace stolen lead with an alternative material if security measures are unlikely to prevent further attacks.
See anyone on a church roof contact the church warden or dial 999 and take reg plate details of any dodgy looking van/car in the vacinity!