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Robbed Copper: The UK's Copper and Lead Theft Hotspots, Revealed

Thefts of building materials such as copper and lead are on the rise in the UK. Earlier this year Openreach’s (BT) network was hit by a string of copper theft attacks, with 3.4km of underground copper cables being stolen and the broadband of over 3,000 homes being disrupted in the process. With the price of copper and lead remaining high, there is a huge opportunity for thieves to make a significant profit from these in-demand materials stolen from homes or public buildings. Two of the most common and sought-after in 2022 include copper and lead.

Copper is used as a building material extensively around the home – in pipes and tubing for moving water as well as heating and cooling systems and even broadband cables. Where you may see it most often, however, is in guttering and downpipes, with a long life span and superb rust resistance.

When it comes to lead, flashing is the most common product, used wherever a roof meets with a vertical plane. This means every chimney, dormer, lean-to, extension, and skylight likely make use of lead flashing. As a result of this, there are many public buildings and homes up and down the country containing significant amounts of this valuable material which, more often than not, are left vulnerable to theft. 

But which areas of the UK have seen the most copper and lead thefts over the past half a decade? We made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the UK’s 43 police forces to find out, with 28 forces from up and down the country providing us with insights into reported building thefts in their area since 2017.

The Top 50 Towns and Cities with The Most Lead and Copper Thefts

 Of the 28 police forces who responded, 19 were able to share a city-level breakdown of the number of thefts reported since 2017, providing us with reported crime numbers for 860 towns and cities up and down the UK. Having crunched the numbers, we’re now able to reveal the top 50 towns and cities with the most reported building material crimes.

Northern cities and towns dominated the top ten, with nine out of ten of the cities being located in the north of the UK. Sheffield and Preston ranked in joint first position, each with a total of 482 reported copper and lead thefts since 2017. Houghton in Northumbria (439 thefts), Kingston Upon Hull (347 thefts) and Burnley (331 thefts) followed to make up the top five cities with the most lead and copper thefts. Canterbury ranked in 10th position, the only southern city to make the top ten list, with 238 reported building material crimes.

Twelve cities that fall under Lancashire Constabulary, including Nelson, Blackburn, Accrington and Blackpool, ranked in the top 50 list, while eight from the Kent Police area (including Ashford, Margate and Maidstone) placed in the top 50. Cities and towns governed by the South Yorkshire Police only appeared four times in the top 50 list, however, the four towns that were included (Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Sheffield), each reported over 245 total crimes, placing them in the top ten.

Rank

City/town

Police force area

Total reported thefts 2017 - 2022

1

Sheffield

South Yorkshire Police

482

2

Preston

Lancashire Constabulary

482

3

Houghton

Northumbria Police

439

4

Kingston Upon Hull

Humberside Police

347

5

Burnley

Lancashire Constabulary

331

6

Doncaster

South Yorkshire Police

305

7

Rotherham

South Yorkshire Police

287

8

Nelson

Lancashire Constabulary

263

9

Barnsley

South Yorkshire Police

246

10

Canterbury

Kent Police

238

11

Blackburn

Lancashire Constabulary

231

12

Grimsby

Humberside Police

213

13

Accrington

Lancashire Constabulary

166

14

Scunthorpe

Humberside Police

153

15

Colne

Lancashire Constabulary

133

16

Blackpool

Lancashire Constabulary

129

17

Ashford

Kent Police

129

18

Norwich

Norfolk Constabulary

128

19

Lancaster

Lancashire Constabulary

126

20

Lytham St Annes

Lancashire Constabulary

121

21

Dudley

West Midlands Police

116

22

Worksop South

Nottinghamshire Police

108

23

Llanelli

Dyfed-Powys Police

105

24

Margate

Kent Police

104

25

Morecambe

Lancashire Constabulary

102

26

Maidstone

Kent Police

101

27

Sittingbourne

Kent Police

95

28

Sandwell

West Midlands Police

93

29

Sunderland Central

Northumbria Police

85

30

Newport West

Gwent Police

85

31

Sunderland East

Northumbria Police

84

32

Mansfield North

Nottinghamshire Police

84

33

Birmingham West

West Midlands Police

84

34

Rossendale

Lancashire Constabulary

81

35

Worksop North Villages

Nottinghamshire Police

75

36

Newport East

Gwent Police

71

37

Chorley

Lancashire Constabulary

70

38

Monmouthshire

Gwent Police

69

39

Hull

Humberside Police

69

40

Belfast

Police Service of Northern Ireland

69

41

Rochester

Kent Police

68

42

Cambridge

Cambridgeshire Constabulary

67

43

Worksop North

Nottinghamshire Police

65

44

Sevenoaks

Kent Police

64

45

Torfaen

Gwent Police

62

46

Ramsgate

Kent Police

60

47

Jesmond & Heaton

Northumbria Police

59

48

Melton North

Leicestershire Police

58

49

Ashington

Northumbria Police

57

50

Sutton in Ashfield

Nottinghamshire Police

57

The Policing Areas with The Most Reported Lead And Copper Thefts

As not every police force was able to provide us with city-level data, we also looked at the overall police force areas which have seen the most (and least) building material thefts over the past five years. Lancashire Constabulary, which covers a population of almost 1.5 million across cities and towns including Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston, ranked as the area which had seen the most copper and lead thefts since 2017, with over 2,700 reported crimes during this time period.

Following closely behind was Cleveland Police, with a total of 2,459 reported thefts, and Kent Police ranked in third spot with 1,559 reported crimes. Northern areas of the UK dominated the top five areas with the most reported robberies, with Northumbria Police (1,440 thefts) and South Yorkshire Police (1,326 thefts) rounding off the top five.

At the other end of the scale, it was the nation’s capital which had the fewest reported thefts, with only nine reported thefts over the time period in the City of London. North Wales Police also ranked at the bottom of the list, with just 40 reports of thefts spanning cities and towns including Gwynedd, Denbighshire, Wrexham and more.

Copper and lead theft reports (from the 28 police forces that responded to our FOI requests) in 2021 totalled 1,667 overall – down almost 37% from 2020’s total (2,277 reported thefts).

Rank

Police force area

Population covered by police force

Total reported thefts 2017 - 2022

1

Lancashire Constabulary

1,449,300

2,712

2

Cleveland Police

557,000

2,459

3

Kent Police

1,800,000

1,559

4

Northumbria Police

1,500,000

1,440

5

South Yorkshire Police

1,280,000

1,326

6

Humberside Police

920,000

1,309

7

Nottinghamshire Police

1,000,000

1,239

8

Derbyshire Constabulary

1,000,000

865

9

Durham Constabulary

641,000

832

10

Leicestershire Police

1,000,000

766

11

Essex Police

1,800,000

471

12

Gwent Police

598,000

441

13

West Midlands Police

2,800,000

438

14

Norfolk Constabulary

908,000

350

15

Devon and Cornwall Police

1,800,000

336

16

Suffolk Constabulary

678,000

318

17

Cumbria Constabulary

500,000

309

18

Hertfordshire Constabulary

1,200,000

308

19

Cambridgeshire Constabulary

800,000

298

20

Dyfed-Powys Police

515,000

289

21

Sussex Police

1,650,000

273

22

Police Service of Northern Ireland

1,861,000

265

23

Northamptonshire Police

741,000

233

24

Gloucestershire Constabulary

600,000

176

25

Surrey Police

1,100,000

44

26

North Wales Police

703,000

40

27

Cheshire Constabulary

1,100,000

29

28

City of London Police

431,000

9

The Top 10 Areas Which Have Seen the Most Lead and Copper Thefts in 2022

Despite only being a few months into 2022 at the time our Freedom of Information requests were made, many police forces had already received reports of lead and copper thefts in their areas. Kent Police had reported the most copper and lead thefts this year so far, with 42 reported crimes in early 2022.

Further up north, South Yorkshire Police followed in second spot with 36 reported thefts, and Cleveland Police rounded off the top three with 32 reported thefts at the time of response.

Rank

Police force area

Population covered by police force

2022 total reported thefts

1

Kent Police

1,800,000

42

2

South Yorkshire Police

1,280,000

36

3

Cleveland Police

557,000

32

4

Leicestershire Police

1,000,000

21

5

Lancashire Constabulary

1,449,300

20

6

Northumbria Police

1,500,000

18

7

Nottinghamshire Police

1,000,000

17

8

Cambridgeshire Constabulary

800,000

15

9

Suffolk Constabulary

678,000

14

10

Derbyshire Constabulary

1,000,000

11

What Should I Do If Copper, Lead or Other Building Materials Have Been Stolen from My Home?

The first step when you discover you’ve been robbed is always to report it to the police, either by phone or online.  If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to the police directly, another option is to make an anonymous report to independent charities such as Crimestoppers, who will work with the relevant authorities to take action.

Following this, you'll need to determine what impact the missing lead or copper may have on your property. This is as missing lead, particularly if located at an abutment to a wall, could quickly result in water ingress. If left unfixed, this can cause damage that could easily cost thousands of pounds to put right and may also lead to structural issues over time.

Whether you are looking to replace building materials lost by theft, or perhaps you’re looking to stock up on materials ahead of your next guttering or insulation project, we’ve got everything you need to keep you covered.

 

Methodology and sources
All figures relate to thefts of lead and/or copper building materials from a variety of buildings between 2017 and 2022, and were sourced from a Freedom of Information request made to the 43 police forces in the UK. Of those 43 requests, 28 responded with usable data which is featured in this research.