CHURCHES in Hampshire are being warned to remain vigilant amid fears of a rise in metal theft as the last Covid-related restrictions lift.

The warning comes from specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, which saw a fall in theft of metal claims during the pandemic, but says criminal activity is likely to rise again over the coming months.

Locally, St Peter’s Church in Hurstbourne Tarrant had lead removed from its porch earlier this year.

The insurer said that the introduction of UK-wide restrictions limited opportunities for criminal gangs to steal metal, including lead and copper, from the country’s heritage buildings.

But with restrictions now largely gone and against a challenging economic backdrop, there are worries there could be a spike in criminal activity.

High demand for copper and lead, driven by an increase in metal prices, has seen several churches already affected by theft in the first quarter of 2022.

Ecclesiastical is urging churches in Hampshire to review their security arrangements.

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It recommends measures such as security lights and roof alarms. Other measures such as installing additional lighting, anti-climb paint and CCTV can also help to prevent buildings from being seen as easy targets for criminals. Some churches and heritage properties that have been victims of metal theft incidents have replaced stolen materials with alternatives, such as stainless steel, which are less appealing to criminals.

Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “The last two years has seen a drop in claims, but we believe that the UK-wide lockdowns have played a part in this.

“There is a risk that the continuing economic downturn in the UK and high value of scrap metal could see an increase in theft of metal from historical buildings such as churches, which is why it is vital that they take steps to protect their premises from unscrupulous offenders.

“Theft of metal can have a devastating impact on churches and heritage buildings. Aside from the cost of replacing the metal, further damage can happen as a result of exposure to the elements which can cost thousands of pounds.”

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