Museums warned of metal theft threat - Museums Association

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Museums warned of metal theft threat

Rise in criminal activity expected as metal prices rise

The UK is expected to see a sharp rise in the number of metal theft cases in the coming months – with museums and heritage sites potentially at risk.

In June, the International Monetary Fund reported that metals prices had increased by 72% compared to pre-pandemic level, with copper alone up 89%.

This increase in prices, alongside the challenging economic environment, have already driven a rise in claims in the first half of 2022, according to the insurance firm Ecclesiastical. It has received claims from several churches and heritage properties.

“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,” says Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance.

“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. It is vital that heritage properties across the country take steps to protect themselves from thieves.”

Tips to protect your building from metal thieves
  • Review your security arrangements and consider implementing measures such as security lights and roof alarms
  • Install additional lighting, anti-climb paint and CCTV to prevent buildings from being seen as easy targets for criminals
  • Consider materials such as stainless steel, which are less appealing to criminals
  • Restrict vehicle access to the building using gates, fences and bollards
  • Take extra care while any building works are in progress – scaffolding, building equipment and ladders will make life easier for thieves
  • Use a forensic security marking system to mark your metal and display the signs as a visual deterrent

More advice is available on the Ecclesiastical website

Office for National Statistics figures show that there were 15,945 metal theft offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019. This rose to 17,446 offences by March 2020 and further to 19,044 by March 2021. Of these latest numbers, 10,895 cases were infrastructure related, which includes removing metal from buildings as well as stealing electricity or railway cables and vehicle parts.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. This legislation requires scrap metal dealers to hold and display a licence and makes it an offence for a scrap metal dealer to purchase scrap metal for cash. Earlier this year, the Local Government Association called for an update to the law to ban advertising for scrap metal.

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