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Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

Rising metal prices and tough economic conditions are leading to an increase in metal theft, with everything from copper cabling and metal pipes to war memorials and even road signs potential targets for thieves.

A number of insurance companies have commented that metal theft has always been an issue, but in the past few years it’s increased significantly. Since 2009, there has been an exponential increase in this type of theft.

Figures from a “Metal Theft Seminar” held in February 2012 by The Association of Chief Police Officers and Crimestoppers show the extent of the problem.  Metal theft now costs the British economy in excess of £800m a year.  A number of reasons lie behind the increase.  The industrialisation of countries such as China and India is pushing worldwide metal prices sky high.  The price of copper, for example, has risen from about US$8,000 a tonne in February 2012.  Unfortunately, just as metal prices started to soar, so did unemployment in the UK, making metal theft even more attractive.


With prices increasing across the commodity markets, all sorts of metals are being stolen.  As well as taking lead from roofs, copper pipes and cabling and platinum from catalytic converters, the rising price of scrap metal means thieves will now consider any metal they can get their hands on.

Criminals don’t care where they steal from either.  Although the remoteness of rural areas meant they were traditionally the main target for metal theft, thieves now see any metal as an opportunity, regardless of the location.  Sculptures have been stolen from central London parks; brass plaques from war memorials in the middle of towns and one group of thieves was even able to steal the lead from a school roof by turning up dressed as workmen during the half-term holiday. 

An insurer has commented that the majority of claims are for between £2,500 and £3,500.  A wide range of scenarios have been seen, everything from thieves taking metal pipes worth as little as £10 from the outside of a building to a commercial premises being stripped of £75,000 of electrical cabling.  It’s also increasingly common for thieves to steal metal, wait for it to be replaced and then come back and rip it out again.

In some instances the cost of replacing the stolen metal may only be a small part of the total claim, as its theft can trigger a claim of other losses.  When a technology company suffered a metal theft from its air-conditioning duct but the cost of the metal was only small, its theft resulted in the company’s computer suite overheating and a systems failure.  As a result, it was unable to operate for a week, resulting in a claim on its business interruption cover. 


Steps are being taken to make metal less attractive to criminals.  The Government is looking at tightening up regulations in the scrap metal industry.  Under proposals that were expected to come into force in April 2012 cash payments will become illegal, with unlimited penalties introduced for those who break the law.

Whilst this may stamp out some metal theft, it’s unlikely to put an end to it altogether.  With metal prices high criminals will find ways to continue to make money from this valuable commodity.  Because of this, it’s essential that organisations take steps to reduce the risk of metal theft (see “Preventing Metal Theft” below).  With thieves often looking to return for “repeat business” once the metal they’ve stolen is replaced, it’s also important to introduce measures to prevent this occurring.

If metal has been stolen, insurers may talk to the organisation about replacing it with an alternative material that is less attractive to thieves. Churches have been replacing lead roofs with stainless steel and local authorities have been using fibreglass to replace manhole covers and road signs.

As the cost of metal theft is potentially much greater than the value of the metal itself, it’s essential to take steps not to become a victim.


With metal theft becoming increasingly common, taking steps to reduce this risk is important.  Make it as difficult as possible for thieves to steal from your premises. Pay close attention to your security and, if you can, ensure any metal items are out of sight.

As a large number of these thefts involve metal such as pipes and cabling on the outside of a building, it’s worth ensuring this is covered, where possible.  Alternatively, use anti-theft deterrents such as anti-vandal paint and anti-scaling barriers.  Make premises less attractive to thieves by installing security lighting and removing potential hiding places such as bushes.

Installing CCTV cameras is also an option.  One insurer has commented that their claims inspectors have reported instances where criminals have stolen metal from one building but left its neighbour untouched because it had CCTV cameras in place.

Source: “Fiddler on the Roof” Copyright Travelers – Code Red Magazine.


First published: April, 2012

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