12 May 2023
Holy water is a common sight in churches up and down the country. But it was the presence of SmartWater that helped Lincolnshire Police to bring a trio of thieves to justice. It is the largest prosecution to date involving lead theft from churches, since the law was changed in 2012 to recognise the aggravating factor of criminal damage to heritage assets.
Thanks to Operation Dastardly, led by Lincolnshire Police, the perpetrators have been charged with 47 church lead theft offences across 10 counties. In total they caused over £1.25m in damage before being arrested after fleeing the scene of a theft in progress from St. Botolph’s Church in Walcott, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.
Following the brave actions of a church warden who alerted police and followed their car, officers intercepted the vehicle and found 12 sheets of lead in the back. It was at this point that SmartWater proved pivotal in decisively linking the stolen property back to the scene of another of their crimes.
SmartWater is a traceable liquid that is applied to items of value to deter theft and support police in identifying stolen property. Each bottle is uniquely formulated and comprises a long lasting and unique forensic identifier whose presence is invisible except under an ultraviolet light. This ensures items can quickly and categorically be tied back to the location from which they were taken.
“The most frustrating thing for police is to know property has been stolen without knowing if they’ll be able to prove it in court. We tested the material in our laboratory and were quickly able to link it back to another church in the area that had also suffered a theft that very same night”, says Mark Kubis-Law, Manager of Commercial Operations at DeterTech.
The in-depth investigation that followed was able to tie the group back to 47 offences across the country through a combination of forensic marking, mobile phone cell site evidence, mobile phone downloads, ANPR evidence, and records of payments from the scrap yard where they sold their ill-gotten gains.
Gary Higgins, Director of Commercial Operations at DeterTech, concludes: “With a 100% conviction rate in contested court cases, criminals rightfully fear SmartWater and its ability to put them behind bars. This case should serve as reminder to the criminal fraternity that areas ‘Protected by SmartWater’ are no-go zones.”