Metal theft numbers drop
Statistics released this month by specialist church and heritage insurer Ecclesiastical reveal that there were over 930 insurance claims from Anglican churches in 2012 for theft of lead and other metals from the exterior of the building compared with over 2,600 claims in 2011, the worst year on record.
The cost of claims fell from nearly £4.5 million in 2011 to £1.8 million in 2012.
Reasons behind the steep drop in metal theft from churches are a matter of speculation but the decline follows concerted efforts to deter criminals by the Government and a range of affected industries such as the utilities and transport sectors. Ecclesiastical also launched its own national campaign, Hands Off Our Church Roofs, in February 2012 to fit sophisticated electronic alarm systems on the roofs of Anglican churches in 42 mainland English dioceses and a number of alarms in Scotland and Wales. Ecclesiastical launched the campaign by providing £500,000 to install alarms free of charge on some of the UK’s churches most badly affected by metal theft.
“930 claims is still 930 claims too many”
John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s director of church insurance, said: “These figures are hugely encouraging but it would be premature to predict the end of the epidemic of metal theft. 930 claims is still 930 claims too many. Metal theft incidents are still running well above levels seen in the 90s and early 2000s when metal theft was so infrequent we saw fewer than 10 church claims a year.
“There are still areas in the country where metal theft incidents are far too frequent. For example, according to our claims statistics the worst-affected areas for church metal theft in 2012 were Salisbury, Chelmsford, Winchester, Chichester and Birmingham dioceses.
“Even though the numbers are pointing in the right direction, it’s going to take a concerted effort for years to come from businesses, politicians and law enforcement agencies to ensure our heritage is safe from these heartless, predatory criminals.
“The Government’s move to ban cash payments for the sale of scrap metal has been a very positive one and MP Richard Ottaway’s Scrap Metal Bill, which is now in its committee stage, has also had a significant impact. But even as the law is tightening its grasp on this crime, churches cannot afford to let their guard drop and we intend to continue making churches as difficult a target as possible for the opportunist metal thief.”
The Bishop of London supports Richard Ottaway’s Scrap Metal Bill in his role as a member of the House of Lords and as chair of the Church Buildings Council. Elsewhere in London, the Diocese continues to represent the cause of churches which have been targeted by metal thieves through relationships with heritage and conservation groups, local authorities, and the metropolitan police. The good news from Ecclesiastical gives us hope that we are treading the correct path, but there is still a way to go yet before the journey is complete. The continued vigilance of parishes in protecting their churches is vital to making sure we secure the progress we have made.
This was written by Matthew Cooper, formerly from the Parish Property Support team.