Smart way to beat church thieves

PUBLISHED: 10:57 11 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:34 06 May 2010

A FORENSIC coding system is the last resort for a village church trying to protect its roof from lead thieves. St Mary s Church in Hemel Hempstead Road, Redbourn, has suffered a couple of attacks on its lead-lined roofs in the last three months includin

A FORENSIC coding system is the last resort for a village church trying to protect its roof from lead thieves.

St Mary's Church in Hemel Hempstead Road, Redbourn, has suffered a couple of attacks on its lead-lined roofs in the last three months including one instance when the metal was stripped off the old church hall's porch roof.

But at the end of June all the church's lead was marked with SmartWater, an invisible liquid with its own unique DNA barcode designed to link the property to the owner.

The Rev Will Gibbs of St Mary's hopes the new system will bring a stop to the thefts: He said: "Now the criminal can be tied to the place which I think will be enough of a deterrent for Herts metal thieves".

The looting coincides with a huge increase in the price of lead on the London Metal Exchange, and Chris Pitt of Ecclesiastical Insurance said the number of claims has never been so high. He added, "The situation gets worse every year -- 10 years ago there were only a handful of claims but now it's costing £1 million a month".

The Fire Station in Redbourn has also had the lead sheeting from its roof stolen, and churches in Harpenden and Wheathampstead have suffered similar problems.

The SmartWater system has a 100 per cent conviction rate, and insurers have been recommending the innovation. Mr Pitt said, "It's a brilliant idea, and along with Neighbourhood Watch schemes, it may just be an answer to this nationwide problem".

Rev Gibbs is also appealing to Redbourn residents to help catch the criminals and said the main weapon against vandalism was vigilance. "We enjoy a very good community spirit here and it could well be an invaluable tool in the fight against lead theft as well as SmartWater", he added.

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