Police target thieves in £1m church haul

A SHARP rise in metal thefts, which has cost churches in the Ely Diocese more than £1million in the last year, has prompted Cambridgeshire police to launch a county-wide crackdown. The campaign, codenamed ­Operation Saruman, will see officers taking a har

A SHARP rise in metal thefts, which has cost churches in the Ely Diocese more than £1million in the last year, has prompted Cambridgeshire police to launch a county-wide crackdown.

The campaign, codenamed ­Operation Saruman, will see officers taking a hard line on thieves who are costing the county an estimated £500,000 every month.

Lead is most commonly stolen, often from roofs, and churches have been targeted.

In the Diocese of Ely alone it has cost individual churches about £50,000 in the last year to repair and replace material.


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Schools, surgeries and other public buildings have also been hit.

Between September 1, 2005, and August 31, 2006, there were 700 metal thefts. That figure rose to 1,200 for the same period 2006/07.

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A major cause in the rise of thefts is an increase in demand for raw materials in the Far East which has driven up the value of scrap metal.

Det Insp Martin Brunning, who is leading the operation, said: "Thieves are taking greater risks to steal and potentially dangerous incidents have included thieves cutting through live electricity and gas mains, damaging sub power stations and removing water tanks causing flooding to buildings."

Police will work with scrap metal dealers and partner agencies including the Environment Agency and Anglian Water.

Det Insp Brunning said: "It is important to stress that this is not a victimless crime and all incidents are treated very seriously. It is costing thousands of pounds to replace the damage done.

"We are determined to catch those responsible and bring them to justice but we need the help and support of the public. We would urge people to report any suspicious behaviour, particularly around vulnerable sites such as churches, schools or power stations."

He said businesses were also being targeted. Copper piping is regularly stolen from building sites, residential properties, commercial premises and plumbers' vans and drums of copper cable worth thousands of pounds are also taken.

Anyone with information should contact police on 0845 456 4564.

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