Lead Thief Thought Lead Theft a Victimless Crime. He is Wrong and Behind Bars for 5 Years. Trace-in-Metal Director Anette Wahlgren reviews some recent arrests and provides an overview of why lead theft is so damaging. 

The thief who ripped lead worth £100,000 from the roof of St Mary’s Church in Baconsthorpe, Norfolk, (pictured left) said in his defence that he thought ‘the cost of replacing the lead would be met by insurance, and that he had not realised the scale of emotional devastation he wreaked. The small group of parishioners who had been fundraising for two years to raise £120,000 for necessary restoration work are devastated as they are again having to find sources of money for a new lead roof.  Ecclesiastical Insurance, who covers for the large majority of Church of England’s premises, has capped insurance payouts at £7,500 for lead theft unless buildings are fully alarmed, at an installation cost of around the same amount.  

Many churches hit by theft have resorted to crowdfunding in order to cover costs for repairs and replacement of stolen lead. St Luke’s in Hartlepool has raised £515 but that will only cover 2% of the estimated cost of £20,000. Parishioners of St Peter’s in Inkberrow have collected 23% of the cost to replace the lead stolen from the roof. The cost of £40,000 for 12 tonnes of lead far exceeds what the insurance payout will cover at St. Mary the Virgin with St John in Brington. Large numbers of churches already have high maintenance bills and the pressure to find money for the un-budget effect of lead theft is a heavy burden for often small congregations.

Other fundraising efforts are in place to help churches install approved alarms. Suffolk Historic Churches Trust have helped cover some of the costs of the alarms recommended by insurance companies which means that they are now covered if thieves target their lead roofs.

A vigilant community will add to the safeguarding of the nation’s cultural heritage of which historic churches form a large part. After hearing noises on the roof a warden of St John the Baptist, Colthishall, hid inside the church and called the police who could arrest a man for possession of a bladed article and attempting to steal lead.


Another alert member of the public called the police when a suspicious van was noticed near the church of St Nicholas Church in Islip and a later a sighting of a figure on the roof. Two men were arrested charged with theft of lead. These are excellent interventions, but unfortuately, many more churches have been attacked. Values of lead lost and colateral damage amounts to staggering sums. Not all of these losses are insured.

Community Watch organisations, such as Heritage Watch and neighbourhood watch schemes have a part to play, and vigilance and the flow of information between the public and police forces is vital. Unfortuately, the demands being placed upon our police sees metal theft slipping ever further down the list of priorities.

Heritage crimes, described as any offence which causes harm to heritage assets and their settings, are often not reported resulting in unreliable statistics and an incomplete picture of its extent.

The police need support in all that they do, and their resources have never been so thin on the ground as it is now. There can be no greater deterrent than locking away villains who are intent on stealing our nation’s metal assets, but it is doubtful that they could ever achieve this, in a crime that dates back to Roman times.

Technology can definitely help support the police here, and Trace-in-Metal is not only remarkable in that it indelibly marks lead throughout the metals recycling ‘food chain’, (pictured: Microdot having survied the melt-down of lead); the Trace-in-Metal database provides the police with a written statement giving them all the evidence they need to charge any suspect, including any dealer, who is caught in possession of Trace-in-Metal marked lead. And this creates a very strong deterrent against stealing the lead in the first place. 

Trace-in-Metal really does make stolen lead…too hot to handle!