Church lead thefts set to hit insurance

CELIA WIGG Insurance premiums for parishes churches in the region may go up next year in the wake of thefts of lead from historic buildings.


Insurance premiums for parishes churches in the region may go up next year in the wake of thefts of lead from historic buildings.

This year has seen a dramatic increase in the number of buildings targeted by thieves as the value of lead has soared because of growing demand for the metal from China.

In Norfolk alone there have been 20 insurance claims to date at a cost of £40,000, according to the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group which provides cover for 95pc of Anglican churches in the UK.

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There were no such thefts reported in the county in the previous two years.

In the Suffolk diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the tally stands at 18 claims totalling almost £95,000 - mirroring the situation nationally.

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So far, the company has received in excess of 2,000 claims during 2007 totalling more than £6m after what spokesman Chris Pitt described as an "epidemic" of thefts. He warned that churches can expect to pay more for the cover provided, if the trend continues.

However, the insurance firm is hoping to turn the tide by offering all parish churches on its books a supply of SmartWater and posters to show roofs have been painted with the security marking product that is impossible to remove once dried, and acts as a deterrent.

"We are not increasing premiums as a knee- jerk reaction. What we will do is look at the whole of the year across the country and assess the situation," Mr Pitt explained.

"We are issuing SmartWater in an effort to stop this trend of thefts before it gets out of hand but, nationally, if these crimes carry on premiums will have to go up next year,"

He added: "We have had a limit of about £15,000 for the theft of lead which has been sufficient for decades for churches. We are now finding that some churches are nearing this limit and that's the bigger worry for us. There are signs that demand for metal prices is tailing off but that's an early indication."

Spokesman for Norwich Diocese, the Rev Jan McFarlane, said churches are anxious about the problem, and they are following Ecclesiastical's advice by raising awareness, encouraging people not to leave ladders in the vicinity and challenging people who appear to be workmen.

"The theft of lead is just something that is a real nuisance. We just have to live with it and take precautionary measures. I think in terms of increasing premiums we have to trust Ecclesiastical to do what's necessary. We are still waiting to hear about SmartWater and clergy are very interested in using it where possible," she said.

Schools, village halls, Methodist churches, shops and other public buildings are also being targeted, but Anglican churches are in the forefront as lead was widely used in their construction.

A spokesman for Norwich Union said: "At the moment the losses we see as a result of the theft of lead are not at a level where we see premiums being affected."

Lead flashing was stolen from the roof of Clinton Cards on High Street, Gorleston, between 8am on Saturday, November 17 and 8am on Saturday, December 1. Any information to PC Jason Howell at Gorleston Police Station on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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