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17 November 2010, 10:23
Heart's been told lots of schools, churches and country houses in the New Forest have been hit by lead and copper thefts lately.
Thieves have been stripping the metal off their roofs - it's been happening across Hythe, Brockenhurst and Lymington.
Police are calling on the public to stay alert for any suspicious activity in their neighbourhoods.
Earlier this year, Ringwood was badly hit by lead thefts, but these were successfully tackled by the use of DNA grease-marking kits funded by the Safer New Forest Partnership Joint Action Group. Hampshire Constabulary, with support from the Partnership, is proposing to distribute more of the kits to fight back against the trend.
Police have raised awareness in the local communities and increased patrols. They also send out police 'e-alerts' to everyone on their mailing list to be extra vigilant and call police if they see anything suspicious.
Lymington Safer Neighbourhood Team Sergeant Nick Adams, said:
“This type of offence becomes more prevalent as the cost of metal increases. Historically, small vans were used to carry the lead away but increasingly we are finding that criminals are using hire cars so they are anonymous.
“We have asked people to call police on 101 for general information but if they think an offence is actually happening, to call 999 immediately and if possible make a note of any vehicle and descriptions of suspects.”
Police are also appealing to the metal trade to be vigilant. They have issued local scrap yards with ultraviolet scanners to enable them to detect stolen metal marked with the DNA grease and report any suspicious activity as soon as it happens.
New Forest District Chief Inspector Gary Cooper said:
“We will seek to take positive action against anybody involved in such metal thefts. You can imagine the massive impact it has on premises such as schools and churches; the inconvenience and worry this causes is unacceptable.
“I urge those working in the metal trade to be absolutely sure that the metal is not at all dubious before agreeing to buy such material. We will be using the advancement of forensic materials to assist in identifying stolen metal.”
NFDC portfolio holder for crime and disorder and chairman of the Safer New Forest Partnership Joint Action Group, Cllr Goff Beck, said:
“Often, the first sign of being a victim of lead theft is when it rains and premises are flooded. The cost to the victim is disproportionate to the value of the stolen lead. A thief may make a few pounds, but the true cost to the victim often runs into thousands.”
Anybody convicted of lead theft faces a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years and an order to pay costs and compensation.