Lead thieves are ruining heritage

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Church warden Brian Ridehalgh at Holy Trinity in Cowling, which was the target of lead thieves who caused £16,000 of damage last year Church warden Brian Ridehalgh at Holy Trinity in Cowling, which was the target of lead thieves who caused £16,000 of damage last year

hockingly, almost a fifth of England’s most precious historic buildings have been hit by crimes over the past year.

Last month, a report on the impact of crime on historic buildings and sites found that churches and other religious buildings were the most affected, with more than a third – 37.5 per cent – damaged by criminal activity.

In the Bradford district, Bradford Cathedral is among those that have been targeted.

“We have been hit over the past three years,” says cathedral administrator Chris Aldred “We have had two incidents of lead theft. The people who are doing this tend to return and have a second attempt.”

A decision was made to try and replace much of the lead that was stolen with alternative material. The alarm system on the roof has also been upgraded, both jobs together costing the cathedral several thousand pounds “It has been costly to do these things when the money could have been spent on other things such as the needs of the Church or the homeless, but obviously we have to protect the fabric of the building.

“We think that these two measures combined should deter anyone from further attempts.”

Chris, and other members of the cathedral, find the situation infuriating. “It is ridiculous. We are meant to be here to provide a spiritual and social function and end up having to spend money on things that we should not have to be paying out for. These resources could have been put to more appropriate uses.”

Other churches across the diocese have also been hit. “We are by no means alone,” adds Chris. “Unfortunately it is part of Church life nowadays. In the past, we perhaps thought that no criminal would want to ruin our heritage, but unfortunately those days are in the past. ”

Georgia Campbell works as buildings surveyor for the National Trust in West Yorkshire and has dealt with numerous cases of theft and damage to historic buildings, including East Riddlesden Hall near Keighley, where thefts have included lead and stone.

“We have suffered greatly, and if the damage is over a certain amount we have to make an insurance claim, and pay a large excess, so it can be a costly business,” she says. “In some instances we have replaced the material with an alternative, but with historic buildings you have to be very careful aesthetically.”

Extra security measure have been installed to deter thieves. “We look at measures such as additional locks, lighting and cameras – anything to slow thieves down.”

She adds that the situation needs to be addressed at the receiving end, so that thieves have not got a readily available market for stolen items.

Bradford Council has taken steps to deter thieves after numerous thefts from historic buildings including Cliffe Castle in Keighley and Bolling Hall in Bradford.

Paul Egan, the authority’s building and technical services manager, says the problem has escalated over the past three years, with thefts being mainly of lead, and it now costs around £60,000 a year to deal with. “Among the measures introduced to combat this are movement sensors on roofs and CCTV cameras.”

Buildings being re-roofed can cause particular problems as scaffolding is required, giving thieves an access route. “We caught thieves on Bradford Register office in Manor Row using CCTV, and at Victoria Hall in Queensbury, but there they caused a lot of damage,” says Paul.

Flagstones are also high on the thieves’ hit list, and, says Paul, the theft of relatively small items, such as brass taps, which would not be worth much, cause much inconvenience, as well as time and money to repair.

“Since the recession, the number of incidents has risen dramatically, and something needs to be done to resolve this on-going problem,” he says.

West Yorkshire Police work with those suffering such crimes to help catch the culprits and to advise on measures to prevent a reoccurrence.

“There are many measures that can be considered, some of which have a cost implication,” says Inspector Esther Hobbs, of Bradford District Safer Neighbourhoods Partnership. “There are CCTV systems, lighting, improved fencing, gating, signage, or perhaps cutting down vegetation, or planting certain types of vegetation may help – it depends on the circumstances, which are different in every case. Often it depends upon what funding is available.”

Local police can also put on extra patrols, she adds.

A recent, innovative measure launched by West Yorkshire Police is Faith Watch, run along similar lines to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme, in which church members and the police work together to help combat crime.

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