A HIGH level maintenance firm responsible for the upkeep of some of Britain's most historic buildings is increasingly being called on to include measures to prevent spiralling thefts of valuable materials from church roofs.

Darlington based Stone Technical Services said it was being called on by churches to help them guard against the increasing problem of theft of lead, copper and stainless steel roof coverings, roof-flashings, copper lightning conductors and lead rainwater pipes.

The firm said that because of its experience in historic building maintenance and restoration, which has seen it work on St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Royal Courts of Justice and Buckingham Palace, it was able to offer specifically designed crime prevention systems for churches.

Stone is presently working with a range of ecclesiastical organisations to install specialist measures as well as forming a partnership with Vipa UK, a manufacturer of church roof protection, alarms and CCTV systems.

According to Ecclesiastical Insurance, specialist insurers for the Anglican Church, since 2007 over eight thousand claims for metal thefts have been made at a cost of over £3m.

Managing director, Dave Stone, who founded the business with his brother Grahame in 1998, said: "It's a sad reflection on society but there is a major demand for bespoke crime prevention systems for churches and other religious buildings.

"The scrap value of metals such as lead and copper is high for thieves and churches have become an easy target.

"We're now working with organisations to sympathetically install crime prevention measures at churches all over the UK in an attempt to combat this dreadful practice."

Moving into crime prevention is the latest expansion for the firm which announced in June that it had launched a division to protect structures from lightning strikes, following the successful launch last year of Stone Refurbishment, which specialises in concrete repairs.

In March the firm announced it had launched its fourth office, in Cheshire, and relocated its London activities to a dedicated office in a more central location.

Only three years ago, the firm's operations were all based at its headquarters in Kellaw Road, Darlington, before it opened a second office at Pinner, in Middlesex.

Stone now employs 28 people and is aiming to increase its £2m turnover by 25 per cent.