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Theft from Places of Worship

Historic England is aware of the issues of crime surrounding historic places of worship. Heritage crime can manifest itself through, amongst other things, lead theft from roofs or the theft of artwork or sculptures.

Lead roofing stripped from a church roof as a result of heritage crime
Metal stripped from the roof of a church © Historic England

Metal theft

Historic England knows that metal theft is a significant part of a wider problem of heritage crime. At a time of high global demand for raw materials many historic places of worship are targeted by thieves in search of metals including lead, copper and zinc.

Roofs are often the target but gutters, downpipes, lightning conductors, stone walling and paving also get taken. Every day we identify sites that have had metal stolen and have frequent communication with the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and local authorities so that information can be shared and perpetrators identified, arrested and punished.

Can metal theft be prevented?

Metal, and other, theft causes huge stress for people caring for historic places of worship. Often it is not only the immediate damage that is a problem but further problems caused by water ingress before repairs can be done.  

On top of that there is the cost of dealing with the situation, which may not be fully covered by insurance.  Preventing potential theft is preferable to dealing with dealing with the unfortunate aftermath and we have produced guidance which is useful to all historic places of worship regardless of faith or denomination. Ecclesiastical Insurance have useful information on roof alarms and products such as SmartWater, a system used to mark valuable items which can be traced.

Theft of Metal from Church Buildings (2011) concentrates on the theft of metals from roofs but is equally applicable to other metals and materials. The guidance outlines our approach and advice on the significance of lead, how to protect it and to respond to theft.  It also offers detailed practical advice on selecting the materials to be used for historic church roofs and making it secure.

How should metal theft be reported?

Contact the Police Directly. If you see thieves in action do not confront them but immediately call 999.  If you find that a theft has already happened then report it on 101.

If you have information about a crime and are happy to give the police your name and address you should contact the police directly either by phone or by attending the nearest police station.

You can find contact details for your local police force through their website or by visiting Ask the Police to access an extensive bank of police-based frequently asked questions.

However you report the crime make sure the call-handler knows:

  • That it is an attack on an historic, protected, community building
  • That the building is managed and maintained by volunteers
  • That you must have a crime number so there is a clear identification for insurance purposes

Remember also to contact someone with responsibility for the building.  It is possible that you are the first person to report the crime and if further damage is to be avoided it is imperative that emergency protection is provided.

What to do once you have reported the crime?

To remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers (to pass on information about crime or criminal activity. You will never have to give a formal statement, talk to police or be a witness in court, and you could receive a reward of up to £1,000 if the information you give leads to the arrest and charge of at least one person. You can contact Crimestoppers 24 hours a day by calling 0800 555 111 or via their online information giving page.

Once the crime has been reported to the police there are a number of steps to take:

  • Notify your insurance company
  • Notify your architect or surveyor so they can inspect the damage and help you arrange emergency coverings to minimise further damage
  • Ask a contractor to inspect the damage and surrounding area and implement short-term repairs to prevent water ingress. It is strongly recommended that competent, experienced lead workers are employed; Lead Contractors Association (LCA) members receive specialist training and have their work vetted and guaranteed
  • Church of England congregations should also notify their Archdeacon and Diocesan Advisory Committee Secretary so they can offer immediate advice and support. Baptist Union, Methodist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Church congregations should notify their respective Advisory Committees
  • If your building is listed grade I or II* seek advice from your local Historic England team
  • Tell neighbouring congregations what has happened, as they are likely to be at heightened risk

We provide more detailed advice on dealing with crime and the impact of crime in our guidance note Theft of Metal from Church Buildings. When considering repairs to any damage caused you will need to ensure you obtain the relevant permissions and more guidance is available on our page Listings and Permissions.

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