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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.89

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Metal theft is threatening Britain's heritage - 37 thefts every month from churches alone

A survey of reported metal thefts from heritage sites across the UK indicates that the country is seeing an alarming rising trend in metal theft, leaving hundreds of historical buildings with repair bills they cannot meet.

On the eve of the first major conference on metal crime by the British Transport Police (BTP) and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the survey, conducted by VPS Security Services, found 100's of reports of church roofs being stripped of lead in the 12 months leading up to April this year, averaging 37 incidents a month.

"These are only the thefts that are reported as metal theft by insurers and the police." explains Nicholas Bye, a VPS Security Services Director. "They amount to a daily stripping of valuable metals from heritage sites across the UK. The actual numbers are probably even higher, because reporting methods across the UK are inconsistent. Lead, copper, nickel and other metals have all risen in value this year, but the scrap metal value is still pitifully small when compared to the cost of replacement and repair. Beyond the sheer cost, though, is the impact on our heritage. It is disappearing before our eyes."

One striking example was when 20 tonnes of lead - the entire roof - was stolen from All Saints' Church in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire last October. It is estimated that at the prices then it might bring the thieves £25,000 but will cost the church £400,000 to replace.

The VPS Security Group also highlighted last year the dramatic increase in cable theft from the railways network reported by the British Transport Police (BTP).

"Railway passengers now also suffer on a daily basis as metal thieves get organised and live cable theft rose 85% in one year" says VPS's Bye. "If you combine all railway cable theft, the 452 incidents represent an increase from five thefts a week the previous year to more than one day now. The cost to the police, the railway operators and of course to the tens of thousands of passengers whose journeys are disrupted will run into the millions. Since the Scrap Metal Merchants Act was introduced in 2013, when cash transactions were banned, police and local authority resources into tackling metal theft has plummeted, and as a consequence, there's a risk that the current rising trend could go largely unchecked. Hopefully the metal crime conference this Friday will point the way to promoting solutions." Nicholas Bye concluded.

The conference, "Metal Crime - The Hidden Cost", will focus on the far-reaching implications of Metal crime, and action that can be taken to prevent it, and is run by the BTP, with the NPCC, on Friday May 31st at Birmingham's Tally Ho Conference Centre

For further information visit www.vpsgroup.com