Rise in metal theft, including from buildings!

Metals are increasingly being stolen from premises across the country - including from the structures themselves

Non-ferrous metals have been a common target for criminals breaking into buildings for many years, but increasingly thieves are stripping buildings of lead flashing and roofing sheets. They are also taking aluminium, copper and stainless steel fixtures and fittings from both vacant and occupied buildings, and ferrous metals from compounds. Even aluminium road signs and iron drain covers are being stolen.

A rise in the price of all metals - but especially non-ferrous metals - with a consequent knock on effect on the cost of scrap, appears to have fuelled an explosion in thefts. Norwich Union Risk Services' (NURS) property security specialist, Richard Underwood, said all kinds of buildings were being targeted.

"Industrial properties, restaurants, pubs, churches, schools and even homes have been attacked by organised gangs and opportunist criminals, in both urban and rural locations," he told us.

"Lead flashing and roof sheeting together with copper pipework and cable seem to be attracting particular attention, although all sources of non-ferrous metal appear to be at risk."

Richard said there were cases of live electric cables having been stripped from sub stations and other sites by thieves. British Transport Police, which has set up its own task force to address the problem of metal thefts, recently said theft of railway copper signalling cable was now its "biggest problem after terrorism."

Security measures

Metal thefts rose by 170% in the Cambridgeshire police area last year, and by 120% in West Mercia, 112% in the West Midlands and 100% in Warwickshire and Sussex. Other areas, notably Northamptonshire, Lancashire and Kent, have been running campaigns warning businesses of significant increases in the number of metal thefts, and advising scrap dealers to check sources of material before purchase.

NURS' Richard Underwood said combating theft of metal from the structure of buildings was difficult without expensive permanent site manning or extensive external monitored alarms and CCTV, but one precaution that could help was making access to roofs more difficult, such as by painting downpipes with 'anti vandal' or 'anti-climb' paint.

Similarly, applying this paint to lead flashing and other metal roofing materials, could make them more difficult for thieves to get at, and messy to remove. Marking the underside of lead or copper roofing and flashing with a covert forensic property marking compound, such as 'Smartwater', or using an overt forensically traceable grease paint such as 'selectadna' could also deter theft and otherwise help the police to identify stolen material and aid recovery.


"Inside buildings, everyday deterrents such as locating at-risk stock in secure areas, with adequate site manning or appropriate intruder alarm/CCTV systems and effective lighting, coupled with extra-vigilance among your own staff and those at any neighbouring properties, can all help" said Richard.

He added that beyond the obvious cost and hassle of replacing stolen roofing materials, there were also weather-related risks to take into account, particularly rainfall entering buildings and causing further damage.

He concluded by saying: "After any loss it is important to review security before replacing like with like. Subject to any local authority planning controls that may apply, or the need to advise your insurers of the use of different building materials, it may be prudent not to replace lead roofing/flashing and to use other less theft-attractive materials instead."

(01 January 2008)

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