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New Commons law aims to stop Manchester metal thieves targeting cathedrals, churches & mosques

By Mancunian Matters staff

A controversial ruling to help stamp out scrap metal theft was agreed by the House of Commons this week.

The wording of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was approved by the Lower House and, if agreed by the House of Lords on April 24, it could receive Royal ascent within weeks.

This could mean big changes for the way thieves operate in Manchester, widely regarded as the country’s hotspot for church metal thefts.

According to a leading insurer, metal thefts have cost Manchester churches £1million over the past five years.

John Coates, director of church insurer Ecclesiastical, said: “The attack on Britain’s churches has reached catastrophic proportions and we simply have to do something about it.”

Manchester Cathedral has been targeted by criminals on numerous occasions.

In January, a 2ft silver cross donated by the Mother’s Union in 1957 was stolen. 

Since then they have removed all silverware from display.

The new legislation could deter thieves from stealing as they will be unable to receive cash in hand for the ill-gotten gains.

Peter Mellor, the Cathedral’s administrator, said: “We welcome anything that will help in the prevention of metal being stolen from places of worship.”

Manchester Islamic Centre and Didsbury Mosque has also paid victim to callous thieves, when a metal beam was recently stolen.

A representative told MM: “Now we hide everything. 

“I think the law will stop everyone from stealing metal.

“I can sometimes see vans driving by collecting whatever metal they can find.”

However, not everyone is in favour of the new legislation.

David Mortimer, managing director of scrap metal business D&L Mortimer, said: “It would be fairer if they enforced it across the field.

“It’s not fair that it doesn’t affect the rag and bone men – people are trying to find a loophole around it, but it’s not something that we are looking to do.”

Members of the industry fear that business could be driven underground or abroad.

Mark Schofield, director of firm JB Schofield & Sons, also expressed concerns about the law.

He said: “We believe a loss of business from the likes of plumbers and joiners will drive many out of business.”

Others have said the law will be an ineffective deterrent.

A priest from one of Manchester’s largest names who did not wish to be named revealed that most churches are now lead-free.

Expensive lead can be replaced by terne-coated stainless steel which is cheaper and difficult to remove.

Manchester’s history with this crime was immortalised in the 1980s by The Smiths’ song Vicar in a Tutu:

“I was minding my business lifting some lead off the roof of the Holy Name church.”

It remains to be seen whether the new legislation, if passed, will be effective.

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