INSURANCE bosses are refusing to pay out after a metal theft at a church because scaffolding put up for repair work helped the thieves carry out their crime.
The offenders targeted Holy Trinity Church, in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool and used scaffolding – which was put in place as part of a £220,000 restoration scheme – to steal lead from a bell repairs hatch at the very top of the tower and a lightning conductor which runs the length of the building.
But despite the church forking out an extra £800 on top of its annual £1,500 premium, to insurers Ecclesiastical to cover any damage caused by the building work, the company is refusing to pay out.
Ecclesiastical say there is a “standard” clause in the policy which states any thefts while scaffolding is erected would not be covered by insurers.
So church members have to find cash to foot the £2,000 to £3,000 repair and replacement bill themselves.
Today, Father Paul Allinson, who is priest at both Holy Trinity Church, and also Greatham Village’s St John the Baptist Church, said he thought it was “rather odd” that the insurance company would not pay out despite the extra £800 paid to the firm for added cover.
He said: “Basically the thieves got inside the scaffolding, which was fully boarded up, and they’ve used it to get to the top of the tower.
“The insurance company says because we have scaffolding around the building it means it’s almost making it accessible to thieves so we aren’t able to claim it back.
“We thought we were covered after paying this extra £800 while the scaffolding was up, but apparently not. It does seem rather odd and unfair and makes us wonder why we were actually paying for the extra cover.
“Perhaps it was a bit ignorant of us to assume this but maybe it is something people need to be aware of. There are lot of houses and businesses getting work done to improve buildings, it makes you wonder whether they are covered.”
A spokeswoman for the company said the church knew theft as a result of scaffolding was not covered and that was “standard”.
She said: “Exclusion of cover for theft of external metal whilst any external scaffolding is in place around a church is a standard exclusion applied by Ecclesiastical on all church policies.
“This exclusion is highlighted in our church policy documents and Holy Trinity church were reminded about of this exclusion of cover when they informed us of their intention to erect scaffolding to carry out roof repairs.
“We were saddened to hear that thieves have used the scaffolding in place to steal external metal from the church, which unfortunately still happens too frequently to many churches across the country.
“We have been working and will continue to work closely with our church customers across the country to help them identify the best risk management measures for their individual churches to prevent metal thefts.”
Father Paul was also saddened at the actions of the thieves who risked their lives stealing the metal.
He said: “The tower is the highest structure in Seaton Carew. They’ve risked their lives by doing this and all for a pittance they’d get from the scrap yard.”
The clergyman, whose church has also previously been attacked by vandals who kicked a hole and daubed graffiti on its perimeter wall, added: “It’s very sad when we have worked so hard to fundraise to have the restoration done and then this happens. We take one step forward and then two steps back.”
Around the same time on the outskirts of Hartlepool, at St Peter’s Church, in Elwick Village, offenders stripped away about 6ft of its lightening conductor, which is a safety mechanism to prevent structural damage to tall buildings from lightening, this time from the ground.
Reverend Janet Burbury said the lightening conductor has now been rendered useless and must be replaced with a new one.
Police have been informed about the thefts, which are believed to have taken place overnight from Monday into Tuesday this week, and investigations are ongoing.
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police urged anyone who saw any suspicious activity from around tea-time on Monday until Tuesday morning to get in touch on the non-emergency number 101.