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The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has written to the MP for Shipley, Philip Davies asking him not to block The Metal Theft and Scrap Metal Dealers Bill which would make it illegal to trade scrap metal for cash. The bill has its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday 9 November.
Philip Davies claims that the use of Smartwater considerably reduces the amount of lead theft, but the Bishop says that six churches in the MP's Shipley constituency have had significant amounts of lead stolen even though they had used Smartwater.
In a letter to Philip Davies, Nick Baines says: "I welcome the contribution of Smartwater . . . but we also need other effective measures in our armoury in this fight against crime . . . we need to tighten up the legislation so that it is does not impede unduly the work of honest scrap metal merchants, but gives the police reliable information when investigating metal theft . . new legislation does lead to some activity going underground, but considerably more of the activity is stopped . . . What further persuades me that this new legislation is necessary is the support of the trade body - the British Metals Recycling Association.
"This Bill . . . has been the result of two years’ careful consideration by the Home Office with the police, the scrap metal trade and the Church of England, all of whom are now convinced that the measures it contains will make a substantial difference and will curb this crime which has caused such damage to our churches and war memorials - as well of course to the infrastructure of the railways and communications’ industries. It is not legislation that has been entered into lightly and if it fails at this point the consequences will be very damaging and seriously frustrate both law enforcement and the trade.
I ask you to reconsider your position . . . In 2011 thefts from churches were running at around 10 per day. The cost to our insurers – which, of course, has to be passed on to the insured – has amounted to over £25 million in the last three or four years . . . Thousands of volunteers see years of labour and care destroyed by the ease with which stolen metal can be sold on . . . Please bear these people in mind when you come to speak and vote on 9th November."
The Bishop's letter follows a similar public plea by Sir Tony Baldry MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner.
In a statement today, Nick Baines says: "This is a huge issue for chuches. The theft of metal from the roof brings other consequent losses due to rain ingress damaging the contents – and sometimes irreplaceable artefacts. As well as the inconvenience and financial burden, it causes significant distress, and as we approach Remembrance Day we need to remember that all our church monuments are vulnerable."
. . . AND THE BRADFORD DIOCESE ASKS OTHERS TO SUPPORT THE BILL TOO
Sylvia Johnson, Chair of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, says, "The Diocese of Bradford welcomes the news earlier this week from Ecclesiastical Insurance that the theft of metal (particularly lead) from churches in the country has started to decrease. Churches have introduced roof alarms, Smartwater marking of metal and substitute lead replacement to tackle the thieves. But let’s be clear – there is still much to do. Thefts continue and years of volunteer labour and care are ruined and huge bills generated for the repair work - sometimes being subject to three and four repeated thefts on the same church building. It is vital that people remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to the police and we are very grateful for the help of neighbours and friends who report anything suspicious.
"We hope as many people as possible will support the forthcoming Scrap Metal Dealers’ Bill in Parliament which will make it illegal to trade scrap metal for cash, with no exceptions for itinerant and other traders. This will take the incentive to commit metal theft away from the great majority of thieves. Easy access to cash, with no identification, is a great encouragement to crime, especially one where it is hard to secure convictions as it is not easy to prove the origins of the stolen metal. The remote locations of many church buildings increase the difficulty of securing convictions. The Bill will make a fair basis for the whole trade to operate, which is why is has the support of the trade body, the British Metals Recycling Association.
"We all want to work on reducing the amount of theft and although some progress is being made there is more to be done to tackle this criminal activity.”