Winchelsea takes steps to beat metal thieves

WINCHELSEA residents are taking action to combat the latest wave of lead and metal thefts.

Metal theft has been a major problem in the Rye area with lead stripped from porches and window flashing.

Lead thieves have recently struck at Rye Harbour and Fairlight.

Last year Rye police successfully smashed a gang who were systematically stripping out metal in the Rye area. But the metal theft still remains a problem, so much so that a new Metal Theft Prevention Bill was introduced at the House of Commons last week.

Graham Jones, the MP introducing the bill, said metal theft was “endemic” and a “crime out of control”

Metal theft has also led to six fatalities and 50 serious injuries in the past 12 months alone, where thieves have tried to steal cabling from energy companies.

An independent report shows metal thefts have cost energy networks £60 million and put thousands of homes

Winchelsea Neighbourhood Watch recently purchased a material called SelectaDNA. Last weekend, this was applied to the lead fixtures on properties around the village. The material contains synthetic DNA with a code unique to Winchelsea, as well as microdots that carry a PIN number and the name of the firm which maintains a database of the DNA codes, PIN numbers and corresponding locations.

Any thief who makes contact with the material as he strips lead from buildings and any stolen lead will carry traces of the material, which is virtually impossible to remove.

Most will not even notice they have been marked. However, the police can detect the material using ultraviolet lamps, which they routinely use to scan suspects and stolen goods. Once detected, the microdots can be read under a microscope and contact made with the database, who will confirm where the lead came from and prove the link to a lead theft by using the DNA code.

Winchelsea Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator, Richard Comotto, hopes that the lead marking project will deter lead thieves or allow prosecutions should a thief target Winchelsea. “We’ve had a couple of lead thefts already and decided to act to stop the problem spreading.

“The marking exercise will also be useful against burglars, who are likely to brush against lead.” The marking material was funded by contributions from residents and a grant from the Police Property Fund secured with the help of Rye Neighbourhood Police Team.”

The new bill calls for a crack down on scrap metal dealers and tougher court sentences for metal thieves.