RUGBY’S disused college building has been targeted by metal thieves, leading to a dramatic police chase around town.
Police were called to Lower Hillmorton Road in Rugby in the early hours of Tuesday morning following reports of men throwing things off the roof of the old Warwickshire College building.
Several emergency calls were made to police just after midnight, with witnesses claiming they could see the men on the roof of the empty building, while another said they could see a ladder at the back of it.
Warwickshire Police Superintendent Bob Musgrove said: “Officers arrived quickly on the scene, within eight or nine minutes. There was a theft in progress and a large amount of lead had been removed from the roof.”
The suspected thieves ran away from the college, leading to a dramatic police chase around the area.
As well as police officers and a sniffer dog on the ground, the helicopter team was also called to help find the gang using thermal image equipment.
Nearby neighbours were kept awake by the noise of the helicopter during the search, with one saying they had seen a man running through their back garden in Lower Hillmorton Road.
After a search lasting nearly an hour, three men aged 17, 19 and 26 were arrested on suspicion of theft.
One man is from Rugby, while the other two are from Daventry. They were all taken into custody where they are being questioned by police.
Spt Musgrove said: “Metal theft is an ongoing issue but one that fluctuates as the price of scrap metal varies.”
Crimes in which metal was recorded as stolen increased by more than 75 per cent in the financial year 2011/12 compared to the previous year.
This is believed to be due to the continued rise in metal prices and opportunities to sell it which can provide a quick cash gain.
Warwickshire Police said it will not tolerate such crime and will do everything in its power to catch those responsible and bring them to justice.
On Thursday last week metal thieves have also targeted St Margaret’s Church in Crick, which is currently undergoing major repairs.
Sue Milne, one of the Friends of St Margaret’s Church, said: “We think it might have been lead flashing paid for by the parochial church council to make sure the good parts of the roof didn’t suffer damage. I think that cost between £4,000 and £6,000 originally.”
The thieves have caused significant damage to one of the copper roofs during the theft.
“Unfortunately, in getting to the lead the thieves did significant damage to one of the copper roofs.
“They stuffed the metal into one of the wheelie bins and then dragged it out through the back gate so few people would hear or see them.
“We don’t know how much that is going to cost to repair.
“I’ve heard the insurance firm is capping payouts for metal thefts from churches to £5,000 because there are just so many.
“It’s just another setback for us.
“First our original builder went bust, then we found we couldn’t claim the VAT back on the work, and now this. It’s just been one issue after the next.
“It is frustrating. We did everything right – we had Smartwater on the metal so it can be traced, and we had signs up telling people that.
“I think whoever it was saw the building work was coming along and that the scaffolding would be coming down and thought ‘it’s now or never’.
“We think we’re now about £13,000 or £14,000 short of the total.”
The repairs to the stonework and tower are estimated to cost £500,000. The church also had its organ restored at a cost of £150,000
The friends are continuing their fundraising efforts next month.
In September there will be a pudding night – a simple healthy meal followed by as many puddings as you can eat. Tickets for that can be booked on 01788 822415 or 01788 824670.