New ‘microdots’ clue in lead thefts inquiry

Contractors repair the damage after lead was stripped from the roof of St Mary's Church, Frampton.  Photo by Jenny McIntee.
Contractors repair the damage after lead was stripped from the roof of St Mary's Church, Frampton. Photo by Jenny McIntee.
0
Have your say

Advances in technology could help police find thieves who stripped more than two tonnes of lead off churches in Algarkirk and Frampton.

Restoration projects at St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church in Algarkirk and St Mary’s Church in Frampton have been thrown into turmoil after a gang ripped lead from the roofs of both churches on Palm Sunday weekend.

These markers will survive extreme heat and can still be recovered and traced back to source, simply by using an ultra-violet torch.

John Minary, managing director of Trace-in-Metal Ltd

But a combination of new Government legislation and Surrey-based crime prevention firm Trace-in-Metal Ltd could lead to the gang responsible for both thefts being brought to justice.

John Minary, managing director of Trace-in-Metal Ltd, said: “A proportion of the lead from St Peter’s and St Paul’s has been infused with thousands of heat-resistant coded microdots which means the lead will be traced back to the church.

“These microdots will survive the temperatures used to recycle lead as they are both painted onto the surface of the lead and covertly infused into the lead sheet itself.

“The lead is also marked with the postcode of the church, PE20 2HH, and has mini-labels attached indicating that the lead is indelibly marked.

“There are literally thousands of these microdots and this is new technology that was being trialled at Algarkirk and other churches in Lincolnshire.

“It is important to stress that these markers will survive extreme heat and can still be recovered and traced back to source, with both the presence of these markers and the postcode found simply by using an ultra-violet torch.”

Both Grade I listed churches have received sizeable grants to carry out vital restoration work, with £175,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for St Peter’s and St Paul’s and £46,300 for St Mary’s from the Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund.

Jenny McIntee from the Friends of Frampton Churches said: “St Mary’s Church is on English Heritage’s At Risk register and it has suffered four sets of lead thefts, leaving the south aisle and transept roofs with temporary polythene sheeting.

“Since the lead thefts, the whole community of Frampton has got behind the fundraising effort and raised a considerable amount of money in just two years.

“The proposed works to replace the south aisle roof and south transept roof with terne-coated stainless steel is to ensure that lead thefts do not happen again, plus re-roofing of the south porch and vestry and to replace defective rainwater gutters and downpipes throughout the building.

“To have the building watertight will protect the structure from further damage to ensure its survival for future generations of Frampton and encourage fundraising to continue towards conservation work on other parts of the building.”

Police are also relying on the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 which makes it harder for thieves to sell on stolen metal.

Scrap metal dealers who buy and sell for cash now face fines of up to £5,000 under the act which also requires them to record and keep details of the name and address of the seller at the point of sale.

At the time the new law was introduced, Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said: “Metal theft costs the UK economy around £220million a year and it has a huge impact on our communities, from disrupted rail services to desecrated war memorials and damaged church roofs.”

Anyone with information about the lead thefts should call PC Anthony Colson at Boston Police Station on 101, quoting incident 265 of March 30.