Metal theft



We hope you’ll never suffer an attack by metal thieves. However, with lead and copper prices high and unscrupulous scrap dealers still in business, the threat is never going to go away completely. But while you may not be able to eliminate it, you can still be prepared. Read this quick step-by-step guide and you’ll know what to do if metal thieves strike.

Please be vigilant and if you see a crime taking place ring 999.

  1. If possible take down the vehicle registration number but please do not attempt to tackle intruders yourself. 
  2. On no account approach the thieves.
  3. If your alarm sounds don't assume it is a false alarm and, as a crime could be in action, please ring the police on 999. 
  4. If you have cause to ring the police please mention that the church is a heritage building. This brings a stiffer sentence if and when someone is caught and convicted.
  5. If you notice a lead theft after the event then report it to the police via 101 or preferably the website

In addition, do encourage neighbours to keep an eye on the church building and make sure the contact details of the churchwarden are displayed. Ideally visit the church as frequently as practicable as lead theft is sometimes only visible from inside the church after rain has fallen through the missing roof.

Do ensure your church has an alarm fitted, as Sgt Brian Calver, Rural Crime, Suffolk Constabulary says, "If there is no alarm, despite the costs involved, this is a false economy as the losses must far outweigh the cost of one. Any alarms should be treated as a priority for (police) attendance and if any are activated during daylight hours, (you should) notify the police as this is often a precursor event to such an attack".

When you report the theft, please give the following information as that will help the police to deal with it more effectively:

  1. Location: where exactly did the theft happen? Give the postcode of your church.
  2. Nature of the crime: give brief details of what exactly was stolen (downpipes/flashing/ roof covering/lightning conductor) where was it stolen from, and the damage done to the building.
  3. Time: when did the theft happen? If you can’t be exact, give a timeframe (i.e. between ‘x’ and ‘y’ o’clock).
  4. Sightings: were there any witnesses to the crime? If so, what did they see and would they be prepared to give statements? Are there CCTV cameras and have you examined the footage?
  5. Forensics: the thieves might have left useful evidence, so check with the police that you’re not inadvertently tampering with a crime scene.
  6. Proof: was the lead treated with SmartWater or any other form of forensic marking system that could trace it to your church? This is really important if the police catch the thieves or scrap dealer red-handed.

Make sure you obtain and make a note of the reference number for the crime!

You can do a lot to reduce your vulnerability to lead theft. Here are some tips.

  • Join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme and get your congregation and neighbours to keep an eye out for anything untoward. 
  • Let your congregation and neighbours know whenever building work is taking place at your church. Encourage them to call the churchwardens or vicar if people dressed like contractors appear at the church when they are not expected – it’s not unknown for thieves to disguise themselves to look like legitimate construction workers.
  • Keep your church open on a daily basis. If potential thieves can see that the building is frequented regularly, they’re less likely to take a chance.
  • Remember locked doors don’t keep out thieves – they don’t need the door to be open in order to reach the roof!


Make sure you have applied Smartwater or the equivalent to your roof and you have registered the application. Make sure too that you display Smartwater notices – the Ecclesiastical is not paying out in full to one church because the notices weren’t displayed.

Roof alarm

Please consider getting a roof alarm – they cost a lot less than a replacement roof.  Contact your insurer for an approved list of suppliers.

The Suffolk Historic Churches Trust are offering financial help towards the installation of roof alarms. Please check their website here for details.

Further resources

Lead Theft Leaflet | PDF

Metal Thefts - Ecclesiastical's advice | Webpage

Metal Thefts - English Heritage's advice | PDF

Page last updated: Tuesday 21st May 2024 3:08 PM

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