Lead Theft - A Rural Crime?

During a routine maintenance check at St John the Baptist Church at Inglesham, cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, it was discovered that most of the lead roof had been stolen. The church has a collection of internationally significant wall paintings, the earliest dating from the 13th century with 14th century additions of colourful angels and saints. Further layers were added in the 16th and 17th centuries when extracts from the Bible were painted in ‘black letters’. An emergency roof cover was swiftly installed to ensure the survival of the wall paintings, first conserved in 1886. The cost of replacing the stolen lead is estimated at £60,000. (Pictured: Inglesham Church Roof: Photo:Darren Lee of N Lee & Son.)

What St John the Baptist has in common with other historic churches from which lead has been stolen is its rural position. An online survey of recent lead thefts from historically important buildings turns up 18 attacks of which the majority was carried out on churches in isolated positions or in small villages. These thefts could then be described as rural crimes. The NFU Mutual crime statistics for rural crime in 2016 highlighted the £39.2 million cost to the UK, a figure that would be considerably higher if the cost of replacing lead,and associated repairs of historic buildings outside urban areas was added.

The devastating impact on communities must be more keenly felt in small villages as the task of raising money to cover high repair costs rests with relatively few parishioners. Insurance payouts in many cases do not cover more than a fraction of the cost of replacing a lead roof.


This disproportionate burden of heritage crime inflicted on rural communities has been recognised by the Government following a Review of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013. Participants recommended that more could be done to identify the location of such crimes, how best to respond to them and what preventive measures could be put in place. Although there were suggestions that  additions to the current legislation should be made to include specific references to heritage metal and heritage assets, the Home Office is keen to address these issues by using the existing legal framework. The reporting of crimes against heritage by the public is then of major importance. Many police forces do not keep specific statistics over heritage crime, one exception being North Yorkshire Police where call handlers have been trained to identify and record such offences or suspicious behaviour near historically important sites. A database of relevant statistics is an important intelligence tool as trends can be spotted and recognisance by criminals exposed.

Chair of the National Rural Crime Network, Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan of North Yorkshire Police, launched a new survey of rural crime in April. The organisation brings together Police and Crime Commissioners, police forces and organisations that play a key role in rural communities such as the Country Land and Business Association, the National Farmers Union, Neighbourhood Watch, Crimestoppers, Historic England and the Countryside Alliance. The aim is to influence people who make decisions about policy and practice, so that rural communities are better understood and supported. A similar survey, carried out in 2015, showed that 25% of the 13000 participants did not report crime as they had no expectations of a Police response. The result of the 2018 survey, and if crime is consistently reported and categorized, can then be used to allocate and increase police resources in rural areas.

To take part go to: National Rural Crime Survey before June 10. 

Anette Wahlgren: Director Trace-in-Metal Ltd.