Lead thieves use Google Earth to target UK churches

December 2, 2010

churchThieves in Britain are using Google Earth to target lead roofs on Church of England buildings to sell on the lucrative metals market, a Church spokesman said. About 8,000 insurance claims have been made for lead theft worth about 23 million pounds ($35.93 million) during the past three years, Church estates commissioner Tony Baldry said during a debate in Westminster Hall this week.

“The effect on the morale of parishioners and communities is devastating,” Baldry said in comments released on Thursday.

(Photo: Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, September 21, 2009/ Eddie Keogh)

Congregations felt police were reluctant to act, despite growing evidence which showed that organized gangs were involved, mirroring the price of lead on the world metal markets, Baldry added. “The higher the price of lead, the more churches are stripped of it,” he said.

The economic downturn, coupled with fears over sovereign debts in the euro zone, has seen investors turn away from paper assets in favor of base and precious metals. Lead can currently sell for nearly $2,400 per tonne on the metals market — up from below $900 at the end of 2008.

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