Steven Sleight, Diocesan Advisory Committee & Pastoral Secretary, offers some timely advice on how to protect our churches against lead theft...

Unfortunately lead theft is again on the increase. This is devastating for congregations, who then have the task of raising funds in order to replace their roof covering. Lincolnshire Police has issued some advice on security:

Be aware – Be on the alert for suspicious activity around the church and report it using 101. If you think a crime is in progress ring 999.

Reduce the opportunity to go unnoticed – Although it’s not always practical to remove trees and shrubbery, raising the canopy of trees to at least 3m and reducing hedges to 1m can help to open up views into the area. Low wattage ‘Dusk till Dawn’ lighting placed around the building can also reduce the opportunity for criminals to hide in the shadows.

Remove the means – Do not leave tools lying around that could assist criminals. Secure bins that could be climbed on or used to transport lead to a van, and ladders that could give access to the roof.

Open-door policies – Many churches prefer to keep their doors open. Regular visitors help deter those who might be up to no good. If this is the case, remove valuable items to a safe place and, if possible, arrange a rota for regular check visits. Never visit alone and never try to detain anyone! Consider installing higher levels of security inside the church to prevent access beyond the main public areas.

Anti-climb treatments – This can help to make life a little hard for thieves but should not be relied on to stop them. Anti-Climb treatments must not be applied lower than 2m from the ground and must be accompanied by warning signage.

Alarms – Try not to think of alarms as just attracting attention. A loud siren and clear lighting can make life difficult for a criminal. The noise can stop thieves communicating and even thinking straight! There are alarms specifically designed to protect roofs and there are many professional installers to do the work.  Remember, alarms can be set up to operate in ‘zones’. This means that even a church with an open-door policy can still benefit from the protection an alarm affords to those areas not open to the public. If you are considering an alarm please consider a loud siren (or several). Small domestic siren boxes will simply not be loud enough.

Alarm-activated lighting – In addition to a siren, strong lighting can also deter criminals. Strong lighting not only highlights areas under attack but also prevents criminals from seeing into the darkness beyond and spotting people approaching. Strobe lighting (which flashes quickly) is also much better at attracting attention and can make it much more difficult for a criminal to work. If strobe lighting is considered it is important to ensure that any alarm system it is linked to is capable of detecting an attack before a person has got into a dangerous position (for instance, onto the roof).

Signage – Signs do work! If they are well maintained they show that a place is being looked after. They can also tell a criminal that it isn’t going to be an easy target.

Help from the wider community – Is there a Neighbourhood Watch in the area? Encourage everyone to help and report anything they think is suspicious. Register for the Police message-sending system: Lincs Alert.

First impressions – The church/churchyard should look as if it is used and loved. Otherwise it could indicate that security may be poor and surveillance negligible.

Some of the works described here may require permission – please ask the DAC for help at the outset.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of Crosslincs.

Further important advice

In the event of a lead theft, if you haven’t done so already then please be in contact with the Police. Have to hand the details of your SmartWater kit that you have applied to the metalwork, as this will help the police in tracking down your lead and possibly apprehending the culprits. You will also need to alert your insurer and give them similar details. Your inspecting architect will help you in securing the roof to ensure that further damage from water ingress is avoided and in putting together details of replacement roofing. If this is not the first time that this has happened then it may be opportune to think of an alternative covering, such as terne-coated steel or zinc, in which case there may be a requirement to talk to Historic England and to see if it is necessary to obtain planning permission for such a change of material.

The photograph that appears here, and which was used in the original article, is courtesy of Jamie Benton Jones.