Protecting Lead Roofs from Theft
||Lead was stripped from the roof of Tewkesbury Abbey’s East End Chapel in 2007 (Photo: Ecclesiastical Insurance)
Most people are aware that the
theft of lead and other metals is rising
dramatically in response to a similar
rise in the value of scrap. Indeed, metal theft is
the fastest growing crime in the UK. This rise is
driven by strong consumption from emerging
markets, mainly China. The UK exported 8,000
tonnes of recyclable metal to China in 1997.
By 2005 this figure had risen to an astonishing
324,000 tonnes. As the graphs below show,
lead and copper prices are also on the rise again.
Business analysts foresee continued strong
demand and high values despite the economic
downturn. Unsurprisingly, this is a worldwide problem
and it has given rise to some highly ambitious
and well organised thefts including the case
of an entire bridge stolen for scrap in the
Ukraine and, closer to home, the theft of
two 7ft propellers, made for the Royal Yacht
Britannia, from Leith docks. The implications
of these crimes can be far-reaching. Metal
theft affects railway lines, communications
infrastructure and electricity sub-stations.
Theft of historic lead currently accounts
for only about 5 per cent of metal theft in
the UK but it remains an extremely serious
and costly problem. Specialist insurer
Ecclesiastical reports that in 2003 it paid only
ten claims costing £20,000. In both 2007
and 2008 there were around 2,500 claims
costing £9 million per year. In 2009 more
than 900 claims were paid, costing more than
£2 million. In the first six months of 2010
Ecclesiastical has already received 945 claims
with an estimated cost of over £2.1 million.
In 2009 Ecclesiastical introduced cover
limits for churches: £5,000 for replacement
metal and £5,000 for subsequent damage
costs (for example, water damage). An average
metal theft claim costs a few thousand pounds,
so the limit is enough to cover the average
claim. What it doesn’t cover is extreme
cases or churches targeted repeatedly and
those suffering very large thefts. Clearly,
these thefts must be prevented so security
protection, police support and local community
vigilance need to be the way forward.
A CRIME WITH A HISTORY
||Price of copper
||Price of lead
||Both graphs © London Metal Exchange
This problem is not new; lead theft stretches
at least as far back as Roman times. In the
18th century, legislation was introduced that
declared the theft and possession of such
metals a crime, not only targeting the thieves
but also the receivers of stolen metals.(1)
More recently, in 1964 the Scrap Metal
Dealers Act was introduced to improve
regulation of the scrap metal trade. The current
magnitude of the problem and the potentially
disastrous impact on national infrastructure
has focused police attention on the issue.
For the British Transport Police, cable theft
from the railway network is now second
only to terrorism in its list of priorities.
A number of recent multi-agency
operations have successfully recovered large
amounts of stolen material and resulted
in the arrest of metal thieves and dealers.
Despite national recognition, however, these
operations have been few and localised.
There is a real danger that current and
forthcoming budget cuts will impede the
development of a sustainable approach
to tackling metal theft nationally.
Perhaps the best hope for curtailing lead
theft, especially for those churches that can
only afford to install basic security measures,
lies with initiatives to make the crime less
attractive. In particular, identity marking
the lead is critical as it increases the level of
risk for both the thieves and any dealer who
subsequently handles it. As part of a wider
strategy to combat lead theft, identity marking
should reduce lead theft in the long term.
A number of commercially available
products and systems uniquely identify items
so that if they are stolen and recovered they
can be traced back to their owner. Lead can
be embossed across its entire surface by
specialists such as Stepway, or A ‘DNA’ marking solution may be applied to the surface. Smartwater
(Smartwater Technology Limited), for example,
has been widely marketed and its use has
been successful in securing convictions.
A marking material can also be applied
as a grease which means that the thief is
likely to become marked, enabling him or her
to be linked with the crime-scene. Because
of its cost, it is normally applied only to
those areas where access is most likely. Two
companies provide this type of product,
Selectamark Security Systems (SelectaDNA)
and RedWeb Technologies (RedDNA).
Before considering expensive security measures,
it is important to consider all basic crime
prevention techniques. These techniques are
unlikely to discourage the more audacious metal
thieves, but they generally target sites where
the likely haul is worth the effort. Churches
with small amounts of lead are likely to attract
the less sophisticated thieves who are more
easily deterred, so make life as difficult as
possible for them. The following techniques
are most effective when used in combination.
- Contact the local crime prevention
team and ensure they are aware of your
circumstances and the value of any metals
on the site. Check whether or not the area
is a metal theft hotspot.
- Keep gates locked and restrict vehicle
access. Consider installing telescopic
bollards, or similar devices. Remove any
easy means of transporting stolen metal,
such as wheelbarrows and wheelie bins, to a
secure storage area.
- Maximise surveillance levels, for example
by cutting back tall trees.
- Install lighting. Fittings should be
inaccessible and/or vandal resistant. But
avoid lighting areas that are secluded as
this might make it easier for thieves to
operate. It could also encourage youths to
congregate, attracting antisocial behaviour.
- Encourage members of the local
community to keep an eye on the building
and to report any suspicious activity to the
police (particularly the unexpected arrival
- Removing any means of access for thieves
to roofs, such as water butts, waste bins and
tall trees located in close proximity to the
building and ensure ladders are stored in a
- Consider planting beds of dense prickly
bushes or trees, for example to reinforce
existing boundaries. Use wide, low beds
where it is important to retain good views.
Climbing or rambling roses for example
might be appropriate over taller walls.
- Conduct regular checks of roofs so
that lead theft is detected at the earliest
opportunity rather than when rainwater
enters the building causing further losses.
- Apply anti-climb paint to drain pipes and
roof guttering to restrict access to roofing.
The paint should not be applied below a
height of 2m, and warning notices should
Once the most appropriate measures for
the site have been put in place, security systems should be considered. These fall
into three categories: intruder detection,
CCTV and physical protection.
Where there is an active local community, the
sirens and flashing lights of an ordinary intruder
detection system should, once activated, be
sufficient to scare off most intruders. However,
where churches are remote or the community
in the immediate vicinity is disinterested, the
alarm will be ignored and the emboldened
thieves will take their chances. It is essential
that an alarm triggers a response as quickly
as possible but do be aware that if members
of the church are asked to fulfil this role, they
might be putting themselves at risk. Make sure
that there are strict procedures to investigate
safely and call the police for support. Where
budget allows, a company accredited by
the National Security Inspectorate (www.nsi.org.uk) should be used to respond.
It is vital to minimise the risk of false
alarms. The use of inappropriate devices can
lead to frequent false alarms, undermining
the credibility of the system and potentially
causing response to fall off to the point
where a genuine attack is likely to be
ignored, or the system is switched off.
Choosing the right type of
detection can be complicated:
- the configuration of most church roofs rules
out simple installations
- animals and environmental conditions can
cause false alarms
- more reliable systems are likely to require
- the appearance of some system components
is unlikely to be in keeping with a historic
- if devices are positioned to suit the installer
rather than the specific demands of the
site and its context, the system will be
||A piece of lead flashing marked with SmartWater, a security marking liquid only visible under
UV light. Smartwater contains a unique forensic code that allows items to be traced back to their owners
(Photo: SmartWater Technology Limited)
There is no universal answer, in each case
the system and the context must be carefully
considered to achieve the best outcomes. So,
what are the options? The external passive
infrared detector (PIR) is probably the most
widely used because it is easily installed and
flexible in terms of the detection area it can
be set up to cover. The problem is that the
detection area is often too wide and poorly
defined, and the PIR can also be triggered
by animals, sunlight and sometimes wind.
Nevertheless, PIR can be effective at protecting
small, specific areas. One company (E-Bound
AVX Ltd) has also developed a system that
uses sequential confirmation to minimise
the risk of false alarms from roof areas. This
means that two devices looking at different
zones must be triggered to create a confirmed
alarm (the system therefore needs up to twice
the number of detectors). This approach is
standard in internal detection systems and
has dramatically reduced false alarm rates.
More reliable than PIR is the active infrared
detector (AIR). This consists of a transmitter
and receiver and a series of active infrared
light beams between them that, if interrupted,
triggers an alarm. As well as requiring twice
as many devices, these tend to be larger than
PIRs and need to be able to ‘see’ each other
(so difficult roof shapes create limitations).
The cost of AIR is also significantly greater
than PIR. It is worth considering using a
combination of devices with AIR on long,
clear runs and PIR in difficult corners.
Buried cable or fence protection type
systems can also be adapted to protect lead
roofs. They use a variety of detection techniques
including vibration, pressure and electromagnetic
pulses, each linked to software
analysers to eliminate false alarms from
weather or animals. The cable, typically 5mm
in diameter, is laid in a continuous loop around
the roof, concentrating on vulnerable areas
to ensure there is sufficient cable to prevent
it being stepped over. It can be laid either on
or under the lead, depending on the detection
technology, and would be virtually invisible to
casual view and to the intruder. While such
systems offer low false alarm rates, there is a
cost premium. Installation could cost as much
as a CCTV system, but some church roofs could
not accommodate CCTV for aesthetic reasons.
To significantly improve protection, any of
the above technologies could be linked to
a CCTV system. This should be remotely
monitored, so that all activations can be
checked before contacting the police or a key-holder.
The system could be linked to on-site
loudspeakers so that the operator can warn
the thieves that the police are on their way.
The cost of installing sufficient detection
and surveillance equipment to monitor an
entire roof might well be beyond the dreams,
never mind the budget, of many small churches.
Nevertheless, it is no longer sufficient to
put up a few cameras and hope they have a
deterrent effect or will serve to identify lead
thieves: any captured images are likely to be
grainy and dark. They may show the thieves at
work, but they are unlikely to be sufficient to
identify the culprits and secure a conviction.
There is very little point installing cameras
in such circumstances without some form
of monitoring. Indeed, if the system and
response procedures are carefully thought
through, even low-budget internet-enabled
cameras have some potential when properly
monitored by members of the congregation.
||The results of lead theft from the Grade I Ionic Temple
in the grounds of Chiswick House, London in June 2008
One promising development is a system
called Wireless Watchman. The system
incorporates detectors with cameras and
infrared lighting combined in a single unit,
a remote monitoring service and guard
response. This type of system uses the video
image to provide information about the alarm
activation, thus confirming an alarm, rather
than good quality images of the whole event.
Crucially, the theft is detected immediately,
and a response is despatched. Other similar
systems are available from other suppliers.
At some churches, particularly those
with a single access road, CCTV can be
used to survey the approaches, recording
the number plates of visiting vehicles rather
than peppering the entire church roof with
cameras. The captured information could be
enough for police to trace known criminals.
One final point on CCTV; it is important
to be aware that images of people are covered
by the Data Protection Act, as is information
about people which is derived from images,
such as vehicle registration numbers. To
understand your responsibilities under the act,
see the CCTV Code of Practice (2008), which
is available on the website of the Information
Commissioner’s Office (www.ico.gov.uk).
In summary, poorly conceived alarm
systems will serve little if any purpose, and will
probably end up being switched off. However, a
carefully considered use of available technology
tailored to your church and the responses
you have available, should provide a reliable
system that helps to prevent lead theft.
LedLok is a company that secures lead sheet
against theft using special fixings, which secure
the sheet to the roof but allow natural thermal
movement. The specialist fixings and hidden
anti-theft bars are suitable for flat, pitched
and vertical surfaces, and they can be fitted
at any time to existing, new or replacement
roofs. After English Heritage expressed some
initial concerns about the appearance of the
fixings, the design was modified and should be
acceptable in all but the most sensitive locations.
Alternatively, if sheet lead is being
replaced, consider having it fixed using
hollow rather than wood-core rolls. The
copper fixings used to secure them make
the sheets more difficult to remove.
On its own, a significant barrier to
quick removal will frustrate thieves and
probably encourage them to look elsewhere.
But it is the combination of these measures
with surveillance or alarm systems that
gives the best chance that the thieves will
leave the site quickly, never to return.
(1) For more information on the history of lead
theft and efforts past and present to combat
it, see L Bennett, ‘Assets under attack:
metal theft, the built environment and the
dark side of the global recycling market’,
Environmental Law and Management, 20,
Sheffield Hallam University, 2008.
Historic Churches, 2010
JON LIVESEY is English Heritage’s national
security adviser. He trained as an architect
and worked in various practices in London
and Manchester before joining Greater
Manchester Police as an architectural liaison
officer, encouraging planners and architects
to proactively design out crime. He would like
to acknowledge the assistance of Ecclesiastical
Insurance Group and British Transport Police in preparing this article.
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