Building 'DNA' to tackle metal thieves

Published:  11 August, 2011

EDINBURGH: Some city buildings are to get their own forensic identity as part of a major effort to thwart metal thieves. 

Vulnerable parts of buildings will be doused in 'smart water' which, like DNA, can be traced if detected on a suspect. 'Dummy' metals will also be trialled on council properties to help deter thieves.

Substitute materials look similar and perform to the same standard but have no value in the illegal scrap metal market. Standard security approaches will be beefed up as part of the approach.

In recent months, an estimated £177 000 worth of damage has been done to schools and other buildings caused because of copper and lead theft. This has more than doubled since last year.

This figure is also expected to rise substantially when more recent damage is taken into account.

The council is working in with Lothian and Borders Police, pooling knowledge and expertise to tackle the issue. Lessons learnt will be shared with other local authorities and Police Forces in Scotland.

McDonald Road Library, Lauriston Castle and the Ross bandstand in Princes Street Gardens have been targeted, on top of recent thefts at Liberton High, Parson's Green primary school and Royal High Primary School. Churches in the city have also been affected and the council will also be piloting some of the new security measures on local churches.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, convenor of the Finance and Resources committee, said:"This is a serious problem and a major unwanted burden on the city's budget. A thief may only receive a few thousand pounds for the stolen lead but it costs a lot more to replace and, as can be seen in buildings such as Liberton High, if not detected immediately the damage can be severe.

"Such criminal activity diverts time and money away from our existing building maintenance and improvement programmes. Regrettably, it may be impossible to completely stop determined thieves but we are to set on making their lives more difficult.

"We also need the public’s help and I would urge anyone who is suspicious about work taking place on a building to contact us to check. We would much rather receive a false alarm than have another theft take place."

Schools in the city have been hit particularly hard by the thieves. City Education Leader Cllr Marilyne MacLaren said: "I’m stunned at the lengths to which these thieves are going steal this material – it's brazen and disgraceful. Theft and damage impacts on school maintenance budgets and can potentially cause safety issues in schools so this is far from a victimless crime.

"We’ve invested hugely in our school estate in recent years and we’re not prepared to allow selfish criminals on the make to ruin them."

Detective chief inspector Richard Thomas said: "We recently launched Operation Adamant, which aims to tackle the issue of metal thefts across the area. We are working with partner agencies to identify any sites that could potentially be targeted by metal thieves and offer the appropriate guidance on securing a property against metal theft. Officers will also continue to carry out high-visibility patrols throughout the City of Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders and anyone found to be involved in the theft of metal will be robustly dealt with."

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