Churches across Somerset have been encouraged to install roof alarms following a flurry of lead thefts. Earlier this month, burglars stripped the metal off parish buildings in Meare, Kingsbury Episcopi, Middlezoy, and Barrington.
Now, congregations are being urged to apply for grants to install the alarms, which act as a deterrent for would-be lead pinchers. Without an alarm, insurers may cover up to only 15 per cent of the repair costs. At least 20 churches have been hit by lead thieves over the past six months, according to the Diocese of Bath Wells. The diocese believes the crimes are being carried out by organised gangs rather than single individuals.
In response to the thefts, a spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police urged residents living near churches to be their "eyes and ears."
In 2013, a law change meant that scrap dealers were required to registered with local authorities, verify the names and addresses of sellers, and stop administering cash payments for metal. Gloucester-based Ecclesiastical insurance said that following the law's passing, thefts "reduced significantly."
"However, since 2015 we have seen an increase in large thefts, which in some cases has involved organised gangs, which involved the removal of entire church roofs," the group told the BBC.
In many cases, strict rules governing the changes that can be made to listed church buildings mean that parishioners are unable to switch out the lead for a cheaper and less lucrative substitute.
This has caused an expensive headache for many congregations, who continue to fall victim to theft. St Peter’s in Stourton, Wiltshire, had to raise £160,000 to replace lead roofing, only for it to be stolen again last year. In response, church warden Cristina Fearon told the Telegraph that the requirement to replace the roofs more lead is “putting churches at risk."
“There has to be a bit of realism about this”, she added. "I wish that the diocesan advisory committees would put all of their energy into choosing a material that would be good as a replacement."