Building materials are rich pickings for thieves warns Norwich Union

Article date: 24 July 2008

The theft of materials is no longer confined to the contents of buildings and stock in yards but now extends to the actual structure of buildings, warns Norwich Union.

Last year, police reported that metal thefts had increased by 170% in some regions, claiming that in certain instances thieves had cut through live electricity and gas mains to steal metal.1

Allister Smith, property risk manager, Norwich Union, explains: "Although all sources of building materials are at risk, significant rises in new and scrap metal prices have greatly increased the attraction of metal theft in particular. Insurers are concerned by the damage this causes to buildings and the costs of such losses.

"For example, if lead roof flashings are taken, a property could be exposed to rain-water, which could damage integral parts of a building and destroy stock. Also, where gutters or down pipes have been removed, then water ingress can occur.

"While thieves have traditionally targeted copper, lead, tin and related alloys such as brass and bronze, current high values mean that traditionally less attractive materials, like stainless or mild steel, are also at risk.

"And, while empty buildings face an increased threat given the high levels of unoccupancy, historic buildings are also vulnerable as they often incorporate considerable amounts of lead or copper roofing.

"Many thefts happen where neighbours see thieves in action and assume they are contractors working at the premises, or are told this by the thieves and accept it."

Smith notes that thieves are often stealing to order and perpetrators come from all over the world. In October, last year, six-tonnes of lead worth £8,400 was stolen from a roofing supplier in Shropshire, while Cambridgeshire's police force has said that metal thefts are costing the county £500,000 a month.1  

Smith recommends ensuring that a thorough risk assessment is conducted to protect any property and highlights a number of "layers" of protection that firms should introduce to deter thieves: "Hinder access to the roof by installing barbed wire along roof edges and anti climb spikes to down pipes. Painting down pipes and roofing with non-setting paint, sometimes called ‘anti-climb' paint will also prevent access.  However, to avoid any legal liability, such security measures should be installed above 2.5m in height, with suitable warning signs displayed.    

"After any theft or during refurbishment works, it is imperative to review security before replacing like with like. This could involve replacing roofing or flashing with metals that are unattractive to thieves - for example, coated steel sheeting, glass reinforced plastics, non lead flashing or flexible bitumised felt. 

"During refurbishment, avoid storing goods externally and, where, possible consider robust fencing or gates with suitable locks to secure the site. Detecting theft from the building or site is much easier if using remotely monitored CCTV.

"Timer switches or dusk sensors to turn lights on and off at appropriate times, either all round the premises, or in areas of possible concealment, is recommended. Plants and shrubbery should not be left to grow so that they block any view of the premises and possibly conceal thieves. Displaying notices or window stickers to advertise that items are security marked is also a good idea. 

"Firms can also make use of forensic marking compounds available on the market. These products are easily applied and bond to the metal surface. They are hard to remove and can be detected by ultraviolet light, which then can be analysed to reveal its identity.

"Most importantly, ensure that any insurance cover is adequate and make certain any insurer conditions related to premises security are observed."  


For further information, please contact:
Sam Bramwell at Staniforth on 0161 919 8024 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684225/ 07789 270677.

Notes to editors:


About Norwich Union
Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.

It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest financial adviser (FA) providers. FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.

Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at

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