Lead thieves use Google Earth to target churches

Thu Dec 2, 2010 4:55pm EST
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By Avril Ormsby

LONDON (Reuters) - Thieves 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 churches have made insurance claims for lead theft worth about 23 million pounds during the past three years, the Church's estate commissioner Tony Baldry said during a debate in Westminster Hall.

In many cases, churches have replaced their roofs only to be targeted again, in one case 14 times.

Many of the Church of England's 16,000 churches are "listed," which provides planning protection for buildings of historical value, and date back hundreds of years.

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

Congregations felt police were reluctant to act, despite growing evidence showing that organized gangs were involved, mirroring the price of lead on the world metal markets, he added.

"The higher the price of lead, the more churches are stripped of it," Baldry 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.   Continued...