metal thieves' double strike
THOUSANDS of pounds' worth of damage was caused to listed town centre buildings when metal thieves struck.
The Grange and Winterton Court in Market Square, Westerham, are estimated to need repairs totalling more than £10,000 after the offenders stripped an area of lead 30m long by 30cm wide from the grade II listed blocks, allowing water to leak through.
A Kent Police spokesman said "dirty hand marks" on a wall below a CCTV camera attached to offices opposite The Grange suggested the culprits had tried to remove or disable it before gaining access to the roofs overnight on May 8.
He said: "Lead has been thrown from the roof on to a bush below and caused significant roof and tile damage, and now water is leaking into the premises."
Chairman of Westerham Parish Council Alan Wesley said he found the lead thefts to be "very disturbing".
He said: "Lead theft has been going on for years but it is very disturbing, especially as we have a very high concentration of listed buildings with leaded roofs."
A listed building is a structure on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest and must be repaired with sympathetic materials – meaning greater expense and further risk of theft.
Mr Wesley said: "This stolen lead does seem to have been targeted in some sense, it appears to have been picked out.
"We are in the A25 corridor and our proximity to the motorway is very helpful to these people in cases like this."
Mr Wesley added that while he did not have the figures, anecdotal evidence suggested crime in Westerham was on the rise.
He said he had written to Chief Inspector Peter Steenhuis following the annual parish meeting on May 2 with concerns about the new policing plan.
Mr Wesley said: "It seems to me that policing is no longer going to be proactive and will be reactive instead.
"I have asked him to clarify the position on crime prevention and reduction.
"One would hope they are competent enough to get ahead of this. However, I don't see much prospect of the police getting on top of it."
Chief Inspector Steenhuis said: "We have always been and continue to be a police force which proactively targets the small number of offenders who commit the majority of crime.
"To this end we have seen a significant increase in the number of crimes that have been solved in the Sevenoaks district in the past year, while the number of crimes committed continues to fall.
"In relation to deterring and preventing crime, our PCSOs are still providing regular high-visibility patrols and crime prevention advice concerning premises which may be l vulnerable.
"Lead theft in particular is a national crime issue and there are many ways in which businesses and communities can protect themselves by implementing forensic marking such as Smart Water, using transferable paint and installing CCTV as a deterrent.
"By installing such crime prevention measures, businesses can themselves play a vital part in the fight against crime."
CCTV footage, including images of the suspected perpetrators, is being recovered by the police.