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Metal theft concerns raised in Parliament: The Church of England Newspaper, March 16, 2012 p 7. March 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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Tony Baldry MP

Concerns over the economic and social costs of metal thefts from churches and war memorials dominated questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mr. Tony Baldry, in Parliament last week.

On 1 March 2012, Mr. Baldry answered four Oral Parliamentary Questions in the Commons and answered a written question on 5 March about metal thefts.  Last week’s questions follow on questions raised by MPs on 20 Feb and 19 Jan 2012 on the costs of the 0ver 2500 metal thefts from churches reported in 2011.

In response to a written question from the member for Ashfield, Ms. Gloria De Piero (Lab.) about the total costs of metal theft, Mr. Baldry stated that the “total value of cost to the Church of England” for metal thefts in “2010 was around £6.5 million of which around £2.3 million was covered by insurance.”

In 2011 the cost “was around £10 million of which around £4.4 million was covered by insurance.”

The previous week Mr. Baldry answered nine questions in Parliament, four of which dealt with metal thefts and related issues.

The member for Truro and Falmouth, Ms. Sarah Newton (Con.) asked “what steps the Church Commissioners are taking to ensure that cathedrals are able to access insurance.”

Mr. Baldry responded the Church Commissioners were aware of the “increasing demands that cathedrals are making on their insurance policies, especially as a consequence of metal theft. The majority of cathedrals are insured by Ecclesiastical Insurance and so far no Cathedral has ever been refused any insurance claim by Ecclesiastical, which is working extremely hard with all cathedrals to assist in reducing the problem of metal theft.”

Ms. Newton noted that she had read of instances where cathedrals were “unable to insure themselves.”

“So will my hon. Friend keep ensuring that cathedrals can afford insurance?”

Mr. Baldry responded that he believed her concerns were justified, but deflected her question. “Cathedrals have not been immune from thefts,” he noted, adding that each new theft “puts up the costs of insurance in all cathedrals.”

“That is why we have to bear down on metal theft,” the Second Church Estates Commissioner said.

The members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Mr. Tom Blenkinsop, (Lab.) and Hexam, Mr. Guy Opperman, (Con.) rose to ask what steps were being taken to protect churches, churchyards and war memorials from metal thefts, and if there had been any consultations with the government over these issues?

Mr. Baldry said that he, the Bishop of London and the chairman of the cathedral and church buildings division of the Church of England, Mrs. Anne Sloman, have had “numerous detailed discussions with a number of Ministers on the issue of metal theft from church property.”

Asked by Mr. Opperman whether he would support stiffer prison terms for metal thieves, Mr. Baldry replied there was a “general desire across the House for the courts seriously to consider deterrent sentences for what is a despicable crime.”

The member for Leyton and Wanstead, Mr. John Cryer (Lab.) rose and asked whether grants might be available to churches to protect them from theft.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner responded that churches that had installed roof alarms or used SmartWater had seen a “substantially reduced” incidence of theft.  These steps were “necessarily that expensive and I hope that all churches will look at how they can improve security to deter metal theft.”

The member for Sherwood, Mr. Mark Spencer (Con.) rose and asked whether there had been discussion with English Heritage about “allowing fibreglass replacements of lead roofs so that the crime is no longer a temptation?”

While there had beencontinuous discussions with English Heritage” about replacing lead with fiberglass, some “60 per cent of grade-I listed buildings in this country are Church of England churches, and there are some restraints as a consequence of those listings,” Mr. Baldry said.

The member for Walsall South, Ms. Valerie Vaz (Lab) rose and asked a new question of the Second Church Estates Commissioner about the number of churches using marking systems to prevent metal thefts and the costs of such systems.

Forensic marking is “widespread and strongly encouraged” Mr. Baldry said.  “Some 12,500 churches have registered with the SmartWater scheme,” he said, adding that SmartWater had “been successful in a number of cases involving arrests and successful prosecutions.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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