London: Every time worshippers enter hundreds of churches across Britain, they now first look up, not in divine pursuit, but to check if the roof has fallen prey to metal thieves selling lead and other costly metal illegally to India and China.
Hectic construction activity in India and China in recent years has fuelled an illegal multi-million pounds international metal racket.
In Britain, metal thieves have targeted rail tracks and houses, but roofs of ancient church buildings have been the most pillaged.
Officials believe that copper stolen from churches and rail tracks is being melted and illegally sold to meet demand in China for the ongoing construction activity for the Olympics, as well as in India.
Security forces have cracked down on several scrap merchants and gangs across Britain and Europe. The thefts are driven by the recent dramatic increases in the global price of scrap metal.
In 2007, organized gangs stripped away 9 million pounds worth of lead and copper from the roofs of 2,300 churches. Some experts call this crime wave as the most concerted assault on churches since the Reformation.
Officials have been forced to put up this notice at hundreds of churches: ‘Help stop lead roof theft/ vans or workmen around the church between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m - they are probably stealing our roof! ´Please call the police’.
Ecclesiastical, a leading insurer of historic heritage properties, told PTI that from January to November 2007, it received 2,200 metal theft claims costing an estimated 7.6 million pounds from Anglican churches, schools and heritage properties across the country.