Capital churches fight back against the metal thieves

Churches across the Capital are being urged to fight back against metal theft – with the help of some very special water.

Organised thieves have stripped tens of thousands of pounds worth of metal from Church of Scotland properties in just six months.

But rather than turn to holy water for inspiration, the Church of Scotland Insurance Company is offering free “SmartWater” kits containing a forensic solution it hopes will deter thieves and bring those who do steal to justice.

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The Church of Scotland began keeping detailed records when it emerged the thefts had become a serious problem.

Among the churches targeted in recent months were Wardie Parish Church – hit three times since October – South Leith Parish Church and Broughton St Mary’s.

Ev McVie, of Wardie Parish Church property committee, said: “It’s very disappointing to have people steal from a church. On the first occasion back in October, there wasn’t any damage other than the lead being taken, but the second time we had water pouring through into the corridor which joins the church to the church hall and it all had to be redecorated. It isn’t until you see the damage inside that you realise the lead has actually been stolen.”

The cost of repairs resulting from the thefts came to £4000.

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But when police recovered two lots of the lead, they were found to be worth just £150.

Mrs McVie said: “We’ve put notices up around the church and whether it will prove a deterrent remains to be seen.

“Obviously, surveillance cameras are very expensive – marking the lead with the SmartWater kits is a very cost-effective way of trying to prevent these thefts.”

Last March, South Leith Parish Church sustained £6000 damage after lead flashings were torn off the roof. Several Catholic churches have also been targeted. SmartWater kits are now being used there too.

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David Robertson, secretary to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, said: “In the last few years we have seen a steep rise in the number of churches being targeted by metal thieves.

“It is not a victimless crime and the impact and cost of metal theft is not limited to replacing what has been stolen. Removing material from a church roof can lead to further damage to the structure and leave it more vulnerable to problems such as flooding.” In addition to using the kits, congregations are being advised to be vigilant at all times, particularly of suspicious and unknown vehicles. Neighbours should be asked to keep an eye out for suspicious activity while vehicle access should be limited out-of-hours and scaffolding or ladders secured.

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SmartWater is a colourless liquid applied to exterior metals and other valuables, marking them with a forensic signature.

It glows under UV light and allows police to link a thief or handler of stolen goods to a particular crime.

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It can be used to code items such as jewellery, ornaments, electrical items and even cars. Each bottle contains a unique chemical “code” which conclusively proves ownership.

The liquid cannot be easily seen by the naked eye and is almost impossible to remove, but as it glows under ultraviolet light, it is easy for the police to detect.