LONDON – Hundreds of churches across Britain are facing a metal crime wave as thieves are stealing millions of dollars worth of metal from church rooftops and shipping it to other parts of the world to take advantage of the huge demand.
Thousands of properties, which include other historic buildings as well as the churches, have fallen victim to organized gangs who collect from vulnerable sources to sell on to crooked metal merchants.
It is thought that these dealers then ship the stolen material overseas to countries such as China, Dubai and India where metal stocks are struggling to satisfy booming manufacturing and building markets.
In the latest attack, the Sachring bell was removed from above the Lady Chapel at St Peter's Church in the town of Whitstable in Kent, England.
The bell had not been used for at least 18 months and its theft only came to light when a contractor tried to replace a rope.
Church warden Reg Spillett said the beam supporting the bell had also been stolen, and it would definitely have taken more than one person to remove it all.
“It's very difficult to get up onto the roof to get to the bell,” he said.
The bell, which was made in memory of a former member of the church, was placed above the Lady Chapel about 70 years ago and was rung during the communion service.
The rope was cut from the bell about 18 months ago, and had taken until last week to get a replacement.
“I think it (the bell) must have gone within the last six months,” Spillett said.
The church does also have another bell, which is always rung before a service. However, Spillett added that he would like it returned if it had not already been melted down.
The phenomenon hitting churches across England was revealed by Ecclesiastical Insurance, a leading Christian insurance company that covers a majority of Church of England buildings throughout Britain.
The insurance firm revealed that lead thefts had tripled, while copper thefts had multiplied by 10 times over the past two years.
Ecclesiastical told the Sunday Telegraph that over the past 16 months the company had received a whopping 750 claims, totaling £1.2 million ($2.4 million)-worth.
“These people have to be organized because of the amounts they are getting away with,” reported Chris Pitt, Ecclesiastical’s PR manager. “These buildings will never be the same again once they've been stripped in this way.”
It has also emerged that the ruthless gangs are ripping lightning conductors from spires using towropes and vehicles.
The theft at the Lady Chapel at St Peter's Church is being investigated by Kent Police.