Lead thefts go through roof

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
Sharp rise in robberies from schools are blamed on soaring scrap metal prices in international markets

The accelerating industrial revolutions in China and India have been blamed for a sharp rise in the number of schools reporting thefts of lead and other metals from their roofs over the summer.

Ecclesiastical Insurance, which insures around 5,700 schools and nurseries in Britain, said school claims for metal theft have shot from just six in 2006 to 131 so far in 2008.

There are fears that the number will leap substantially over the remaining five months of the year.

Metal prices have sky-rocketed in the past decade, with lead leaping from around $500 (pound;267) to $2,240 (pound;1,198) a tonne. Copper has risen from $2,000 (pound;1,070) to around $8,000 (pound;4,282) a tonne.

Schools housed in Victorian buildings in London, the Home Counties and Bradford have been particularly badly hit, but police and insurers say the problem is nationwide.

Heart of the Forest Community Special School in rural Gloucestershire has forked out pound;11,000 to replace the lead on its roof this summer term, although the thieves will only get about pound;1,300 for the scrap.

Headteacher Howard Jones said: "The damage is considerable, as we don't just need to replace the lead but the wood that sits beneath it.

"Many stone tiles were loosened or broken along with the guttering and the down pipes.

"The thieves had no consideration for the pupils or the potential damage to the building; they were clearly driven by greed and the chance to make money."

The crime was made worse after the thieves drove their getaway vehicle through a closed wooden gate on their way out.

Churches have also been targeted by the scrap metal boom, with thieves taking roof lead, copper lightning conductors, and even making off with the church bells.

The Association of Chief Police Officers says the annual cost to business and the public of such crimes is around pound;360 million a year.

Ecclesiastical Insurance is urging schools to take preventative measures to deter metal-snatchers. Spokesman Chris Pitt said: "There are really simple things that can be done, such as removing items that could help thieves gain access to the roof, like water butts, waste bins and tall trees."

Schools are also advised to mark their metal goods with products such as Smartwater, so they can be traced if stolen.

- The Local Government Association has reported a sharp rise in manhole cover thefts. Fifteen were stolen from in front of a primary school near Peterborough in June.


- Remove water butts, waste bins and talls trees that could help thieves gain access to the roof;

- Remove wheelbarrows and other items that may provide an easy means of removing the metal from the site;

- Maximise surveillance - cut back bushy trees and consider installing CCTV;

- Carry out regular checks of the roof so thefts can be spotted before rain damage occurs;

- Encourage the community to be vigilant, especially during holidays and evenings;

- Security mark metal items;

- Improve security lighting.

Source: Ecclesiastical Insurance.

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