Diocese worst-hit area in country for metal thefts

�Metal thefts from one Hornchurch church helped make the diocese of Chelmsford the most targeted area of the UK last year for thefts of valuable metal from churches.

There were 90 claims made in the diocese – which covers Essex and five east London boroughs including Havering – to specialist insurer Ecclesiastical for theft of metal in 2011.

Grade I listed building St Andrew’s Church was targeted at least 10 times last year – with the Rev Barry Hobson and parishioners resorting to sleeping in the church overnight in a bid to catch the thieves.

The year was the worst on record for metal thefts according to the insurance firm.

John Coates, Ecclesiastical’s direct insurance services director, said: “2011 has been a very tough year, with incidents of metal theft from churches becoming virtually endemic.

“If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the groundswell of public awareness of the problem this year and the growing sense of outrage.”

He added that the company has conducted a survey which found that half of the population would support tougher sentencing for criminals convicted of stealing metal from churches.

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“We believe it’s important that the government takes note of this mood and takes immediate action to tighten up the law, particularly the Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 1964,” he said.

‘Lives at risk’

Mr Hobson said: “I think that the problem is so endemic that there needs to be some serious punishment.

“But it’s not just the fact that metal is being taken off roofs – it’s being taken from worse places like train signals and power lines.

“When you take away signal cables, that’s putting lives at risk for thousands of people on trains.”

If it can gain approval from English Heritage, St Andrew’s Church is hoping to change the material used in its roof so it will no longer be made from metals desired by thieves.

The High Street building’s insurance payouts last year didn’t cover all the cost of the damage caused by the crooks.