The highly detailed satellite images provided by Google Earth opened a unique window on the world when it was launched in 2005, one that proved all too enticing for roofer Tom Berge; he used the website to hunt down a fortune in scrap metal on the roofs of historic buildings near his home in London.
Berge, 27, stole lead worth £100,000 from schools, churches, museums and other large buildings during a six-month spree that began in September last year. He used the website to identify the lead roofs by their darker colour. He was sentenced to eight months in prison – suspended for two years – after confessing to more than 30 offences.
"The properties hit included Sutton High School for Girls and the Honeywood museum, Carshalton, where £10,000-worth of lead was removed from the roof of each building," said a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police. "Another building hit was Croydon parish church where the theft of lead from its roof let in the rain and caused extensive damage."
Sutton magistrates court was told that Berge, of Rosehill, Sutton, would meticulously plan each raid. Last summer, scrap lead was worth about £700 a tonne, although that has since slumped to £350 because of falling demand in the construction industry.
Berge and his accomplices used ladders and abseiling ropes to strip the roofs and took the lead away in a stolen vehicle. But he was stopped by police and later confessed.
Detective Sergeant Chris Grant said Berge's arrest had had a noticeable effect on crime in the area. "He was a prolific offender up until the time he was arrested. Since then, our crime figures for theft of lead have reduced significantly."