As the value of lead recovers, will lead theft from churches surge again in 2021/22?

lead theft

Reported lead theft incidents from churches across the UK dropped by 60% between 2019 and 2020. That’s the good news. The bad news is that rising values of metals are on the up (significantly), bringing with it the potential of a renewed surge in metal theft related crimes.

Global metal values seem to be having a direct impact of all kinds of metal related thefts by criminal gangs, like the significant increase in the frequency of catalytic converters that is sweeping the country at the moment.  This increase seems to correlate to the rocketing values of the rare metals inside catalytic converters – which include rhodium, palladium and platinum. Read more about the rise in catalytic converter theft and the rising rare metal values here.

The global demand for lead is rocketing too and with it is its value and ‘appeal’ to unscrupulous thieves. The trade value of lead reached its peak between 2017-2019, so too did reported church roof and heritage building lead thefts – showing a direct correlation between the two, as we explore below…

How many reported ‘lead theft from churches’ incidents between 2017 – 2019?

The Countryside Alliance Special report into crimes against churches and religious buildings in the UK – published in Nov 2019, there were 20,158 crimes reported at churches across the UK in the three year period from 2017 – 2019. During this period there was a total of 1,069 lead theft incidents from churches reported by 39 national police force constabularies. This equates to an average of 356 lead thefts a year between 2017-19 from churches and places of worship alone.

Of course, it was not just churches that were targeted for lead and metal theft when the values were at their peak either. Figures published by the ONS, showed a sharp increase in metal theft incidents from public and commercial ‘infrastructure’ sites too amounting to 6,884 incidents in 2018-19 alone.

Looking at global lead values, which were at their peak between 2017-2019, it is not hard to make the connection between lead theft frequency and high demand for lead at its highest value.

Some regions of the UK were impacted hardest by lead theft from churches, below were the 10 most affected by numbers of theft incidents between 2017-2019:

Rank Region Reported Lead thefts
1 Leicestershire 103
2 Lancashire 76
3 Northamptonshire 75
4 Avon & Somerset 70
5 Nottinghamshire 62
6 Cleveland 56
7 Kent 53
8 Lincolnshire 48
9 Greater London 48
10 Humberside 46

How many reported ‘lead theft from churches’ incidents between 2019-2020?

Lead trading values dipped to a low point in 2019, which seems to be reflected in a dip in reported lead theft incidents during that period.  According to Countryside Alliance’s  ‘Annual report into crimes on churches and religious buildings in the UK 2019-20‘ there were 278 lead theft incidents between 2019-2020 – showing a decrease of 22% when compared to the average incidents reported between 2017-2019 of 356 a year.

How many reported ‘lead theft from churches’ incidents between 2020-2021?

New data released by Countryside Alliance show that 38 of the country’s territorial police forces have reported over 4,000 crimes being committed at churches over the past year, between July 2020-2021. Of these 115 were reported as lead theft incidents.

This demonstrates a further frequency decrease of almost 60% in reported lead theft from churches incidents compared to 2019-2020.

The 10 worst affected areas of the UK were:

Rank Region Lead Theft
1 Lancashire 11
2 Norfolk 11
3 Kent 9
4 Northumbria 9
5 Essex 8
6 South Wales 6
7 Hertfordshire 5
8 Greater London 5
9 South Yorkshire 5
10 Suffolk 5

Does global ‘lead value’ impact the frequency of lead theft incidents from churches?

The below ‘lead value and forecast chart’ shows the trading value of lead over the past few years along with a trend forecast that shows a significant upturn.

lead value forecast

source: tradingeconomics.com

The above shows clearly that lead value peaked between 2017-2019 – it seems fair to assume that this peak, delivering such high lead values, impacted the high lead theft from churches incidents reported within this same period.

Showing a converse correlation, lead value dipped significantly between 2019 and 2020 – so did reported lead theft numbers. This dip continued into 2020/2021, reaching its lowest value in 5 years – which matches the further decrease in numbers of lead theft incidents reported.

What is of major concern, if indeed the values of lead do impact the lead theft figures,  is that lead values have recovered from their low point and are already trading at levels not seen since 2019 –  forecasted values appear to rocket even further in 2022 and beyond.

The above ‘lead value and forecast chart’ shows the trading value of lead over the past few years along with a forecast trend.  This shows a similar trend to the the frequency of reported lead theft from churches incidents – which we will explore further.  What is of major concern is that lead values have recovered from a low in 2020 and are already trading at levels not seen since 2019 and are forecasted to rise further.

Will the rocketing value of lead this herald a fresh surge in churches, places of worship and heritage buildings being targeted by criminal gangs?

Surge in lead thefts from churches in 2021?

Scanning the news, it would appear that lead theft from churches and heritage building is back on the agenda of thieves and organised criminal gangs. Like these incident reports from across the UK:

> Metal theft a ‘grim reality’ for Suffolk churches seen as easy targets by criminals – East Anglian Daily Times, Nov 2021

> Thief pocketed £15,000 after flogging lead he’d stolen from the roof to a scrap dealer in Aberdeen – Aberdeen Press & Journal, Nov 2021

> Village church has given up trying to replace lead on its roof after thieves pinched it for the second time in four years – Newbury Today, Sep 2021

> The lead roof over Grade I-listed building Bedale Hall, in North Yorkshire, was stolen causing £100,000 damage – ITV, Sep 2021

> Cheshire church left with £25,000 repair bill after roof lead theft – Chester Standard, Sep 2021

> St Luke’s Church roof vandalised by metal thieves – The Charlton Champion, Aug 2021

Masked thieves steal ‘half a roof’ worth of lead from Rawtenstall museum – Lancs Live, Jul 2021

Why the exponential increase in value and demand for lead?

lead

Farsight published an article about lead theft from churches and places of worship back in April – ‘Lead theft from churches is through the roof again!’, which outlined why buildings with lead roofs are being targeted by unscrupulous thieves.

Lead has one of the highest metal recycling rates worldwide, higher than other metals like aluminium, cast iron and stainless steel.   Using recycled and secondary lead reduces CO2 emissions by 99% compared to traditional processes – that’s why in Europe 74% of lead comes from recycled stock.

Most notably, 85% of lead is used for acid batteries, a global industry that is estimated to be worth USD 108.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.1% from 2020 to 2027. The lead-acid battery segment accounted for the largest share of 29.5% in 2019 on account of expanding applications in uninterrupted power supply (UPS), automotive, telecommunication, transport vehicles, and electric bikes.

Worldwide demand for lead showed a slump due to an automotive production ‘slow down’ caused by the pandemic. However, as the post lockdown demand rockets once more it appears that so too will the trend in lead theft by criminals exploiting this opportunity to cash in on this demand and rising values.

Are our churches and heritage building roofs an easy target for criminals?

Churches and other heritage buildings are a particularly vulnerable to metal thieves, particularly those in rural locations and those with poor security in place.

According to Historic England, there 14,788 listed place of worship in England – which pose a big and attractive target for determined metal thieves to take their pick from…

heritage church roof lead theft

There are currently 932 listed places of worship on the 2020 Heritage at Risk Register with 90 being added since 2019. Historic England cite some of the most common issues that listed churches face which include heritage crime and metal theft (including lead theft), which contribute to the main threats of failing roofs, gutters, downpipes and high level stonework.

To understand the full scale of heritage crime in England, Historic England commissioned a major research study that revealed that:

“The biggest single threat is metal theft and the most threatened type of building is a church. About 3 in 8 churches or other religious buildings were damaged by crime last year.”

Of course, it not only listed churches that are at risk from heritage crime, the research also revealed that an estimated 18.7% of all listed were physically affected by crime last year – that is over 70,000 listed buildings. For almost 30,000 of those listed buildings the impact was substantial.

A study carried out by The Countryside Alliance – ‘Annual report into crimes on churches and religious buildings in the UK 2019-20’– found that criminals are targeting churches and other places of worship across the UK and are responsible for almost 6,000 crimes in the last year alone.  Other than lead and metal thefts – these include: 2,152 general thefts, 534 burglaries and 1,750 cases of vandalism.

These shocking figures illustrate the need for some serious thought about proactive security measures that can be implemented to better protect assets, premises and people.

The importance of acting to minimise the risk of lead theft

Preventative security measures can minimise church roof lead thefts significantly, reduce the frequency of these incidents by increasing the risks to thieves. Indeed, the benefits of improved security measures have been demonstrated across in the county, like this initiative in the county of Norfolk for example…

Over the past few years, Norfolk has proven to be a hotpot for lead theft from churches.  In 2020 a spate of over 40 lead thefts targeted churches across the region including the theft of 6 tonnes of lead from St. Mary’s Church in Baconsthorpe.

£250,000 was raised through a partnership with the Bishop of Norwich, Norfolk Police, Allchurches Trust, the Norfolk Churches Trust and the Round Tower Churches Society which has enabled over 70 local churches to install roof alarms and optimise their preventative security measures, as scheme supported by the Eastern Daily Press.

The article mentions that is reassuring that Norfolk Police have recorded a 50% reduction in reported lead thefts since this initiative, but warns ‘not to rest of their laurels’.

How to prevent lead roof theft from churches & heritage buildings

When planning security for churches and heritage buildings, roof security is often overlooked.  As we have highlighted, it is crucial be be aware of the risks to lead roofs and not make it easy for thieves to strike. In many cases, where there are fire & intruder alarms or CCTV systems in place these can be expanded to protect the roof too.

However, when it comes to planning security measures,  Historic England points out in their Preventing Metal Theft Guide:

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to the challenges of metal theft. Prevention and security measures should be tailored to your building and its location, taking cost and resource into account. The most effective measure is to use a combination of methods, some very low-cost. Your insurer may have also specific requirements regarding security measures.”

Historic England’s Preventing Metal Theft Guide recommends starting with a risk assessment and preparing a statement of significance. Their security suggestions for churches include the following:

  • Involving the community by building good relationships with neighbours and local police
  • Taking basic protective measures such as regularly checking roofs and drainage goods, making access to the roof difficult and restricting vehicle access to the site
  • Taking extra precautions when contractors are on site.
  • Marking your metal, either with forensic marking or mechanical stamping
  • Installing alarms or cameras (See below)

The benefits of installing roof protection systems to protect against lead theft

As part of its theft of metal checklist for churches, Ecclesiastical –  a leading church insurer in the UK, acknowledges that ‘additional actions such as installing an electronic roof security system or CCTV will further reduce the risk of a theft occurring’.

Ecclesiastical goes on to outline the benefits of roof protection systems for churches which include the following:

  • An effective deterrent for metal thieves
  • Able to cover large roof areas cost effectively
  • Suitable for buildings in any location, if the security system is activated, a planned response based on your specific instructions is carried out
  • If you choose an insurer approved system then cover for metal theft can be expanded.

As part of their guidance on further reducing the risk of metal theft from church roofs, Ecclesiastical recommends installing intruder detection systems that can include an electronic roof security system or CCTV. However, when it comes to installing security systems, it is advisable to call on the experience of an accredited security systems installer to ensure the right solution is identified.

In many cases, alarm and CCTV systems that are already in situ to protect churches from intruders can be expanded to include roof areas to protect against lead theft, or stand alone systems can be considered.  When it comes to installing security systems, this can be complicated depending on the property and it is advisable to call on the experience of an accredited security systems installer to ensure the right solution is identified.

The main ‘proactive’ objectives of roof alarms and CCTV is to detect intruders, deter further actions and activate a response. In the case of CCTV, surveillance recordings of  roof theft incidents can provide retrospective evidence that can be important for visual verification and prosecution.

Intruder Detection

Both alarm and CCTV systems rely on intruder detection technology, which has evolved greatly in recent years to reduce the amount of false alarms. There are a great many innovative detection devices on the market, including wired and wireless Passive Infra Red (PIR) and Active Infra Red (AIR) which suit roof protection applications.

Some CCTV cameras contain integral intruder detection technology, but stand alone intruder detector equipment can also be used to activate both alarm and CCTV systems. For example, Optex have developed a comprehensive range of intruder detector equipment that is used across wide range of sites including heritage buildings to detect intrusion on roofs – like this detector pictured below…

Choosing the right intruder detector equipment is crucial as Jon Livesey, National Security Advisor to English Heritage points out in his article written for Building Conservation. Jon says,

“It is vital to minimise the risk of false alarms. The use of inappropriate devices can lead to frequent false alarms, undermining the credibility of the system and potentially causing response to fall off to the point where a genuine attack is likely to be ignored, or the system is switched off.”

Alarm Monitoring

For churches in rural locations, ‘bells only’ alarms may not be a sufficient security solution, as if there is no immediate response to an alarm siren going off, it may not deter a determined thief which would defeat the objective. To be able to action a response to alarm activation, Jon Livesey comments,

“It is essential that an alarm triggers a response as quickly as possible but do be aware that if members of the church are asked to fulfil this role, they might be putting themselves at risk.”

Indeed, the National Crime Agency (NCA) warns that ‘Organised crime has moved into lead theft, targeting church roofs and bringing a threat of violence to anyone who tries to tackle them. The latest report published by the Countryside Alliance examining crimes at church premises reveals that their were 946 cases of assault reported to police in last 12 months.

We believe the inclusion of an alarm monitoring station partner is an important step in ensuring that immediate response can be actioned when it is needed, by professionals. This can also mean a faster response from police services when our operators can verify an alarm.

Farsight is a leading Category II  BS5979 Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) accredited by SSAIB and this is how Farsight monitor alarms…

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According to Ecclesiastical over 500 churches now have roof alarms to help protect against external lead theft.  However, there are big changes happening in the world of alarm signalling which are largely down to BT Openreach’s PSTN switchover.  It is worth asking your alarm installer whether this will affect your system’s effectiveness.  Learn more about future-proofing your alarm systems in our article: Is your alarm signalling at risk?

Another exciting development is that it is now possible to link an alarm system to your existing CCTV cameras which will allow our operators to get ‘alarm visual verification’ in ‘real time’ as an incident is in progress – which can help prioritise incidents for faster police response.

> If you plan to consider installing a new roof alarm at your church, see below for details of the Allchurch Roof Alarm Grant scheme that has now been extended to the end of 2021.

CCTV Monitoring

CCTV systems have become more sophisticated in recent years, and now provide an alternative to roof alarms, providing proactive visually verified protection when you need it.

However, we believe that remote monitoring of these systems especially out of hours is essential.  This sentiment is echoed by Jon Livesey who comments:

“To significantly improve protection, any of the above technologies could be linked to a CCTV system. This should be remotely monitored, so that all activations can be checked before contacting the police or a key-holder. The system could be linked to on-site loudspeakers so that the operator can warn the thieves that the police are on their way.”

Farsight is a leading BS8418 SSAIB  accredited Remote Video Response Centre and this is how Farsight monitors CCTV systems…

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Want to Work with Farsight?

If you are concerned about your church or heritage site being targeted by unscrupulous lead theft criminals, maybe it is time to consider bolstering your security measures and one of our   remote monitoring solutions to give you peace of mind 24/7.

To find out how we can help, or connect you with one of our approved security system installer partners, simply call our team on 0845 371 0101 or drop us a line below…