Bishop of Bradford's plea to city MPs on new bid to curb church metal thefts (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting TANEWS to 80360, or email
Bishop of Bradford's plea to city MPs on new bid to curb church metal thefts
The Bishop of Bradford has urged all the district’s MPs to vote for a Parliamentary Bill to outlaw the selling of scrap metal for cash – to help stop churches being plundered by thieves.
And the diocese, which describes the theft of metal from churches as a “huge issue”, is calling on Telegraph & Argus readers to put pressure on their MP to support the proposed legislation as it reaches a vital stage in the House of Commons next week.
The Bishop, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, said: “The theft of metal from the roof brings other consequent losses due to rain ingress damaging the contents – and sometimes irreplaceable artefacts.
“As well as the inconvenience and financial burden, it causes significant distress, and as we approach Remembrance Day we need to remember that all our church monuments are vulnerable.”
The proposals have met with mixed reactions from MPs, with Bradford West MP George Galloway describing it as like “outlawing Harold Steptoe”.
Shipley MP Philip Davies, who has previously argued in the Commons that the legislation was unnecessary, has been sent a letter by the Bishop urging him to change his mind.
The letter states: “This Bill has been the result of two years’ careful consideration by the Home Office with the police, the scrap metal trade and the Church of England, all of whom are now convinced that the measures it contains will make a substantial difference and will curb this crime which has caused such damage to our churches and war memorials – as well as to the infrastructure of the railways and communications industries.
“It is not legislation that has been entered into lightly and if it fails at this point the consequences will be very damaging and seriously frustrate both law enforcement and the trade.
“I ask you to reconsider your position.”
When contacted by the Telegraph & Argus yesterday, Mr Davies said the Government had already outlawed cash payments for scrap metal under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which is due to come into force on December 3. However, the ban on cash payments does not apply to itinerant collectors under the new law.
Mr Davies said the Metal Theft Bill put forward by Conservative MP Richard Ottaway would not make “a blind bit of difference” unless it included tougher sentencing for illegal scrap dealers.
He said: “It is the worst kind of gesture politics. This is saying that if you do not support this Bill, you do not want to do anything about metal thefts. I do want to do something about it but the only way of doing that is by having proper sentences. This Bill says nothing about sentencing.
“People can already go to court for this but get derisory sentences. I have said to Richard Ottaway that if he puts something in the Bill to give people proper, serious sentences, then I would support it. Otherwise, it will not make a blind bit of difference.”
The Metal Theft and Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which would make it illegal to trade scrap metal for cash, has its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday, November 9.
The Archdeacon of Bradford, the Venerable David Lee, said despite latest figures that show some reduction in the level of metal thefts, particularly lead, from a peak two years ago, there was still much to do to.
He said: “Thefts continue and years of volunteer labour and care are ruined and huge bills generated for the repair work – sometimes being subject to three and four repeated thefts on the same church building. It is vital that people remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to the police and we are very grateful for the help of neighbours and friends who report anything suspicious.
“Please could your readers support the forthcoming Scrap Metal Dealers’ Bill in Parliament which will make it illegal to trade scrap metal for cash, with no exceptions for itinerant and other traders?”
Figures show that thefts from churches across the country last year were running at an average of ten a day and the cost to insurers over the last four years has been in excess of £25 million.
Latest figures compiled by Ecclesiastical Insurance show in 2010 claims in the Bradford Diocese cost nearly £70,000, last year the bill was in excess of £60,000 and in 2012 up to the end of last month, claims costing more than £7,000 have been made.
Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe said legislation to stop unscrupulous scrap dealers was “long overdue”. He said: “I agree with the Bishop. This is long overdue, not just to protect churches but also metal grates off the roads and other stolen metal.”
Bradford East Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward, said removing things like metal grates were costly and put lives at risk. He said: “If unscrupulous people are simply accepting cash in back-hand deals, how other way do we legitimise the industry? No genuine traders should fear this legislation.”
However, Respect MP Mr Galloway said: “While one is sympathetic to the Bishop’s call, this is an unworkable and environmentally unfriendly Bill. It would also hit legitimate scrap dealers.
“It would be like outlawing Harold Steptoe.”