EIGHTEEN months after a police crackdown on metal theft from churches and other public buildings in the Waverley district of Surrey, there has been only one reported incident, where previously there had been over 100 lead thefts in a six-month period.
A scheme using forensic marking product SelectaDNA Grease was introduced by Waverley Police after a continued rise in the theft of materials such as copper piping, York stone, and lead from public buildings. At the launch of the scheme in April 2009, Waverley Crime Reduction Advisor John Robini, said: "Thieves are taking lead of almost any quantity, from a small roof over a porch, to large church roofs. If this is not noticed straightaway, it becomes a major problem, particularly if it rains which then causes more damage."
Fast forward to November 2010 and Mr Robini says that the crackdown has had "a very positive effect". "I am only aware of one reported incident of metal theft in 18 months from public buildings," Mr Robini said. "This type of crime has decreased significantly which is excellent news for the local community. Thieves are definitely being deterred from large-scale metal theft in the Waverley area."
When applied to a material such as lead, the grease will remain on the surface and if touched, stays on the skin or clothing for weeks or even months. If either the lead, clothing or skin are examined within this time it is possible to say exactly which premises it came from as it contains both a UV tracer and a unique DNA code.
John Robini warned: "Thieves should be aware that we will be checking to find these DNA traces, and it will greatly increase their chances of being caught. It also means that those buying these stolen materials could also be identified, and investigated for receiving stolen goods. If found guilty both offences carry a heavy prison sentence."
With metal prices rising again, it is not just Surrey Police that have been seeking a solution to the problem of metal theft. Numerous police forces across the UK are now using SelectaDNA Grease which can be painted onto outside metals such as copper, zinc and lead, all of which are particularly vulnerable to theft. A medieval church in Flegg in Norfolk, recently used DNA marking to protect antique candlesticks and valuable altar ware.
The grease can also be used to deter theft of guttering, finials and metal windows. In another example, SelectaDNA Grease has been used successfully in the parish of Fareham in Hampshire since mid-2008.
Keith Burroughs, church warden at Fareham United Reform Church has been using the grease mainly as a deterrent. He explained: "The church is a modern one with a prominent lead parapet which is topped with a metal cross. It is visible from the main road and there has been concern for some time among our parishioners that it could be targeted by metal thieves." Mr Burroughs said: "We were looking for a product that would deter thieves in the first instance from even approaching our church premises. We have now painted the parapet roof with SelectaDNA Grease and we have also used it on metal windows and outside lanterns.
We have erected warning signs in the car park and also put posters up on church notice-boards and doors." Mr Burroughs concluded: "Metal theft from churches is expensive, destructive and inconvenient. We are doing everything we can to protect our church from this mindless form of theft and damage."
For further information and images contact: Angela Singleton, Press Officer for Selectamark.
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