A NEW security system aimed at preventing the theft of lead and other valuable metals from buildings is being trialled by a North-East firm.

The Vipa Defender system is being tested at St Paul’s Church, in Spennymoor, County Durham, and St Mary’s Church, in Darlington, before being made available throughout the country.

It has been developed by Vipa UK, which is based in Darlington, in response to the soaring levels of metal thefts – now said to account for a quarter of all crime.

Nationally, the cost of lead theft from church roofs over the past four years is estimated at £23m, with £750,000 worth taken in the North- East.

The unveiling comes a week after Durham Police set up a squad of officers dedicated to tackling metal thefts.

It involves a battery-powered sensor which is fixed to the building and which sets off an alarm and flashing light if the lead or metal is disturbed.

The Vipa Defender also powers two cameras which can catch thieves in the act. It will cost £2,700 per year.

Colin Chambers, director of Vipa UK, said: “We provide security systems that the police and councils have used for several years.

“Metal thefts from buildings are a big problem and we were approached to see if we could come up with a solution.

“It can be installed anywhere thieves have struck.

When the alarms goes off it alerts a controller who calls the police to arrest the thieves.

“Some buildings have had £20,000 of lead taken, so to be able to fit a crime prevention system that is so cheap could prove attractive.”

Many churches not only have to replace the lead, but also repair roofs damaged by the criminals.

PC Don Luke, of Bishop Auckland Police, said: “It’s a big problem locally as thieves are targeting all sorts of buildings.

“Any equipment we can use to help deter them is good.

Hopefully, this will provide an effective way to deter and catch the criminals.”

A grease has also been developed by Selectamark that contains unique formula which, when smeared on the lead or metal and then touched by the thieves, links them to the crime scene and cannot be washed off for six weeks.