Theft of metals and oil from churches a growing concern

As a leading insurer of historic heritage properties and churches, Ecclesiastical has seen a significant increase in the theft of metals from insured premises in both the UK and Ireland over recent years.

As a leading insurer of historic heritage properties and churches, Ecclesiastical has seen a significant increase in the theft of metals from insured premises in both the UK and Ireland over recent years.

While Ireland has not experienced the same level of church metal theft as reported in the UK, 2011 was the worst year on record for claims in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, suggesting that it is a growing issue here.

Thefts have ranged from metal gates to lead from roof coverings, lightning rods and steel drain pipes.

Putting aside the irreplaceable loss of heritage, the financial loss arising from thefts goes far beyond the cost of just replacing the stolen metal. Damage to stonework caused during the course of the theft can be significant, as well as water damage to internal furnishings if it rains before the theft of roof coverings is discovered.

As long as world demand for metal remains strong, scrap value will continue to be high making church metal an attractive target for thieves. Churches and other heritage properties are likely to face the problem of metal theft for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, with the cost of heating oil continuing to increase, there have also been an increased number of cases of oil theft from churches. Thefts vary from small amounts to cases where the whole tank has been drained.

From 2010 - 2012, Ecclesiastical has received 85 metal theft claims in total from churches across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. 2011 was the worst year on record for church metal theft across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with 54 cases recorded. 13 cases of church metal theft in Ireland have been reported this year to date.

Metal theft from churches across the island of Ireland over the past five years has cost Ecclesiastical Ireland €211,510 in claims. Thefts of metal gates, lead from roof coverings, lightning rods and copper drain pipes have all been reported.

In response to the rise in metal theft in UK churches, Ecclesiastical started a “Hands Off Our Church Roofs” campaign this year. 10,500 metal theft claims have been received from UK churches since January 2007.

Ecclesiastical is advising that a number of simple measures can be implemented to combat metal and oil theft in local communities:

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Metal theft prevention

* Encourage members of the local community to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity, particularly the arrival of unexpected workmen to the property

* Apply anti-climb paint to drain pipes and roof gutting to restrict access

* Make access to building roofs more difficult by removing waste bins, tall trees or water butts

* Maximise surveillance levels and cut back tall trees or vegetation which can act as a screen to hide criminal activity

* Store ladders in a secure place, inaccessible to the public

* Consider longer term measures such as security lighting, alarm systems or CCTV

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Oil theft prevention

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* Monitor the level of oil in your tank regularly.

* Conceal the location of the tank by using hedging, fencing or walling.

* Securely lock doors at all times if the tank is situated within a building.

* Consider installing security lighting to cover the tank if the churchyard is overlooked from nearby buildings.

* Lock the church or property gates at night to make it more difficult for a thief to escape with oil.