England churches 'making fewer insurance claims for theft'

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Media captionSt Mary's church in Dalham, Suffolk, sustained £100,000's worth of damage when the lead was stripped from its roof

There has been a 70% drop in theft claims by churches across England, according to an insurer.

Ecclesiastical Insurance (EI) said there were 659 claims in the first half of 2012, mainly for lead theft, dropping to 195 for the same period this year.

It said it had concerns government funding for the police's National Metal Theft Taskforce was due to finish.

The Home Office said its £6m funding was always due to come to an end.

The taskforce, which is led by British Transport Police and due to have the funding withdrawn next month, was set up in 2012 to tackle metal thefts, primarily from railway lines but also lead from church roofs.

However, churches report being targeted despite the unit's work.

Image caption Dalham's Parochial Church Council estimated the cost or repairs would be up to £100,000

St John the Baptist in Bridgwater, Somerset had its roof stripped in April, while St Mary's in Dalham, Suffolk was targeted in July.

Church's theft shortfall

Jane Green, secretary of the Parochial Church Council in Dalham near Newmarket, estimated the thieves could sell the stolen lead for £3,000, but it would cost £100,000 to repair the whole roof.

"We looked up and could see daylight through the rafters and we realised something serious had happened," she said.

"We've been paying our insurance premiums, but the insurers have limited their payout to £5,000.

"The church is a national treasure and it's been here since 1300, but with no roof how long will it last?

"We are a tiny community and need help very badly, but where do we begin?"

EI said it limited its cover payouts in 2009 to £5,000 for the cost of the lead and £5,000 for damage, which it described as enough to cover average thefts of £2-3,000, but not extreme cases where churches were repeatedly targeted.

A spokeswoman said it had provided all Anglican churches in the UK with free SmartWater solution for forensic marking of their metals and wireless roof alarms for some of the most at-risk churches.

Tony Redmon, who is on the Church of England Church Buildings Council and is the surveyor looking after St Mary's, said: "The cost of lead has gone up again and churches are still very vulnerable.

"I'd like to see police being more motivated and a more international approach so that lead heading overseas - which we believe it does - can be captured at the ports."

An EI spokeswoman said: "There is still a great deal left to do to eradicate this crime completely and to protect our country's infrastructure and heritage buildings.

"It is vital that the work carried out by the task force continues and further funding for their work is found."

Norman Baker, the Home Office crime prevention minister, said: "Alongside new laws to ban cash payments and regulate the scrap metal trade, the Taskforce has helped to make it harder for thieves and unscrupulous dealers to profit from crime.

"The government agreed to provide funding to cover the first year of the new legislation, which has been in place since last October."

Claims for metal thefts from churches by selected dioceses

  • Salisbury - 60 claims for full year 2012, 6 claims Jan-July 2014
  • Chelmsford - 44 claims for full year 2012, 9 claims Jan-July 2014
  • Winchester - 43 claims for full year 2012, 3 claims Jan-July 2014
  • Chichester - 32 claims for full year 2012, 3 claims Jan-July 2014
  • Birmingham - 32 claims for full year 2012, 5 claims Jan-July 2014

Source: Ecclesiastical Insurance

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