October 9, 2008

Lead Thefts Rocket, but Few End Up in Court

By Helen Collis

Thieves have got away with thousands of pounds' worth of lead roofing stolen from houses, building sites and even churches, it has been revealed.

Between April 2007 and April this year, there were 441 reported cases of lead roofing theft in Devon and Cornwall - but only 16 resulted in prosecutions.

The number of cases of this type of theft has rocketed, but only about 3 per cent of the criminals who are stealing the valuable resource are ending up in front of the courts.

Devon and Cornwall Police recently established Operation Galvin which targets metal theft across the region, working with scrap dealers and interested public bodies to combat the crime.

The figures were released to the Western Morning News under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the last three years, the number of reported cases of lead roofing theft has multiplied by more than 24 times.

There were 18 reported cases in 2005-06 with no prosecutions and 62 reported cases in 2006-07 with two prosecutions. The most recent figures show there were 441 cases reported in 2007-08 with just 16 prosecutions.

Victim David White, managing director of Western Counties Roofing, in Newton Abbot, South Devon, said the problem had suddenly become very serious over the last couple of years, with the increased price for lead.

He said: "We have had 12 building sites affected in the last 12 months. It's a really big problem for us. We try to fit the lead at the last opportunity otherwise there's a chance it might go missing."

Mr White said he instructed all his workers to either take the remainder lead home with them at the end of the day or put it in a secure place and leave it over night "as a last resort".

He said: "We are continually reminding them to secure the lead. At the end of the day, it can mean the difference between a profitable job or not."

Mr White said his firm now bought lead roofing at about pounds1.40 per kilo. However, a few months ago it cost pounds2 per kilo and theft was far more frequent.

One scrap metal buyer in Plymouth, who preferred not to be named, said he paid pounds650 for a tonne of lead, but that figure was double a few months ago.

Supt Dave Sumner, who oversees Operation Galvin in Plymouth, said the force had introduced a number of measures to combat the issue.

"Operation Galvin was launched early this summer after it became clear there was a sharp rise in the theft of metals resulting from the increasing price in the commodities market for metals. This was shortly after the distressing theft of the war memorial plaques from Plymouth Hoe," he said.

Supt Sumner said the police had introduced a number of measures to deter and deal with the problem of metal theft.

"We work in partnership with the city's scrap metal dealers. They want to continue legitimate business and they aren't interested in taking stolen metal."

Supt Sumner said all scrap dealers in the force area were now required to ask for formal identification from sellers. Non- commercial sellers must provide their vehicle registration number.

The operation has also seen queues of cars waiting to be seen at scrap dealers checked by a team of police and other interested agency members, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Social Security and the Environment Agency.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.