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Advisory on lead thefts

Stolen lead from Neston Civic Centre roof

A rash of high-profile leadwork thefts in the Cheshire area has left business owners and public service providers facing steep costs for damages. In the past fortnight, Northwich Library, Neston Civic Hall and Chester Cathedral have become the latest victims of a group of opportunistic thieves who have stripped the valuable leadwork from the buildings’ roofs.

The damage caused by the vandals can be exponential. Not only is the lead removed in a careless and heavy-handed fashion which can ruin the building’s aesthetics, the significant protection offered by the lead disappears as well. It can be difficult to gauge the scale of the problem until adverse weather conditions turn the situation into a disaster. Heavy rain leaked through Northwich Library’s unprotected roof, destroying a quantity of books and ruining several rooms’ décor.

The value of lead is currently at a premium, which has emboldened thieves to attempt high-risk thefts such as these. Though most cases will occur under cover of night, vandals may rely on peoples’ social conditioning to brazenly carry out their burglary in broad daylight. Members of the public are advised to be vigilant, as even from street level there will be signs that the thieves are not legitimate roofers:

  • No scaffolding – Regulations for working at heights require the use of stable platforms when carrying out tasks above a certain height.
  • No Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) – Hard-hats, high-visibility vests & jackets and sturdy work boots are all standardised in the roofing industry.
  • No health & safety – trained professionals will never take risks that would endanger themselves or their colleagues.

Stolen lead from Chester Cathedral roof

In all cases, owners of buildings which may be targets for lead thieves are recommended to be pro-active and take steps to ensure that their property remains safe. There are two solutions which can either aid in catching the vandals or removing the possibility of theft altogether:

  • Tracking the thieves – By coating your leadwork in special substances such as RedWeb Asset Marker Gels & Grease, imprinted with a unique forensic mark which can be scanned by UV detection equipment, your lead can be identified at sales channels and returned to you, while the thief will retain traces of the grease allowing for swifter prosecution. This solution is the least expensive and quickest to apply, but still leaves you vulnerable to thieves.
  • Removal of resale value – By replacing your roof with an alternative roofing system such as Firestone EPDM Rubber, you can have the protection benefits of a lead roof without the material fetching a high resale price. This solution has a higher cost up front, but has the guarantee of your roof having no value to thieves, eliminating the need for replacement in the future.

John McLeod, Director of Maxiflow Roofing Services, has said that “this is becoming an increasing problem in urban areas with high populations, with the very real possibility that members of the public are at risk not only of the thefts, but of injury caused by the carelessness of these vandals. We always find that prevention is better than the cure, so would advise that members of the public take steps now to prevent damage to their property or themselves.”

Information and excerpts from this article were featured on the Chester First news website and in the 21/07/2011 Chester Standard newspaper.

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