Metal Theft is still on the Increase

Posted on Wednesday 24 July 2019
Theft of metal is one of the fastest growing crimes globally. No longer the domain of the opportunist, petty thief, the recent rise in metal prices has attracted organised crime groups who are who are targeting church roofs.

The Diocese of Ely was recently praised at the National Metal Theft conference in Birmingham for its work in tackling lead theft, but still the risk is high. 

Following a spate of thefts across Lincolnshire and Leicestershire earlier this year, earlier in the summer thieves struck at least three churches in this Diocese. 

Lead thefts last year have left at least two congregations facing the challenge of making major grant applications at a time when competition is high.  This is something all too familiar to the project lead at Swavesey church, who was tasked with leading a Lottery Heritage Fund project after the church suffered three successive lead thefts.  The application was successful, and the repairs are nearing completion, but the time and commitment needed to plan and deliver such a project has been exhausting. None of these churches had roof alarms before the thefts.

These thefts, now officially recognised as Heritage Crime, have more impact than just the financial loss of the lead; significant damage is often done to stonework, as well as water damage to internal furnishings if it rains before the theft is discovered. Added to this is the emotional impact of suffering a theft, the irreplaceable loss of heritage, and the additional fundraising challenge. And it’s not just lead that thieves are interested in, copper and stainless steel are also a target.  Thefts also aren’t limited to roof coverings - flashings, copper lightning conductors, lead and copper rainwater pipes, bronze statues, metal garden ornaments, iron gates and even church bells have all been stolen.

There are, however, several things you can do to help prevent theft; the first is to recognise that all church buildings with metal are at risk, even those in central village locations which are overlooked and in frequent use – it really is better to plan for the worst but hope for the best.


  1. Record items of significance
  2. Review your Insurance
  3. Undertake a basic security check
  4. Mark your metal
  5. Install an alarm
  6. Build good links with the local community
  7. Nominate a key contact who will co-ordinate matters in the event of a theft.

A full description of these actions and links to further guidance can be found in the downloadable document below, or by contacting the Church Buildings and Pastoral Department.  In summary, the key advice is to:

Make sure you know what metal you have in/on your building and record its significance and any distinguishing features.

Ensure you have the right insurance coverfor your building and that you understand the specific conditions/exclusions around metal.

Carry out a basic security check- take a good look at your church through the eyes of a potential thief – how would you get up the roof? Where would you park? Would you be seen? Do neighbours overlook the site? Are there any deterrents or invitations? 

Apply a forensic markersuch as SmartWater – this is often a condition of insurance, without it you might not entitled to any payout in the event of a theft.

Fit an alarm- an insurance-approved roof alarm remains the only way to provide effective protection AND full insurance cover for the metal on your church roof. There are grants available from the AllChurches Trust and County Historic Churches Trusts to help with installation, but the annual monitoring and maintenance costs do have to be met by the congregation.  These costs are, however, significantly less than the those associated with a theft which can reach into six figures.

Build good linkswith the local community and encourage people to report anything that looks unusual or suspicious.  Let people know that, unless you tell them otherwise, NO work is taking place on the church, so if they see someone on the roof then there is something wrong. Yes, thieves are that brazen and will steal during the day under the guise of being legitimate workmen.

Please report anything suspiciousto the Cambridgeshire Rural Crime Action Team at RCAT@cambs.pnn.police.ukor if you are in Norfolk, you have your very own rapid response team in the shape of DC Andy Brown

If the worst happens…

Tell the Police

  • If a crime is taking place phone the Police on 999, otherwise, use 101.
  • Give clear information about the location, and any information that would help identify the suspects or vehicles used.
  • Report it as a Heritage Crime - make sure you tell the call handler that the building is listed and that you would like the incident reported as a Heritage Crime, and that the Heritage Crime Liaison Officer should be notified.
  • Make a note of the Crime Reference Number

Use tarpaulin or plastic sheeting as an emergency cover – even a small amount of rain can cause huge damage quickly.

Contact your quinquennial inspecting architect so they can inspect the building and help arrange emergency protection and repairs.

Notify the DAC by contacting Geoffrey Hunter, Church Buildings Consultant on 01353 652737 or via 

Notify your Archdeacon, local community contacts and neighbouring parishes.