BUSINESSES in Huntingdonshire are turning to private security firms to patrol their properties as they try to protect them from the spate of metal thefts taking place across the district. One security firm told The Hunts Post its client base in Hunts had increased by 60 per cent in the past three months as thieves continue to strip lead off roofs and steal metal cabling. And the same firm has also been employed to install CCTV cameras and security lights at Huntingdonshire churches and schools - buildings that have been regular targets of metal thieves. In one of the latest incidents in the district, about 100 metres of copper sheeting was stolen from the roof of Upwood County Primary School overnight last Thursday (October 11). Last week The Hunts Post reported how 800 telephone lines were disconnected by thieves who dug up a road in an attempt to steal copper cables belonging to BT. And over the summer there has been numerous reports of churches being partially stripped of lead, other schools being targeted as well as homes and even an electricity sub station attacked. Cambridgeshire police has launched Operation Saruman to combat the problem, which is estimated to cost the county \u00A3500,000 a month. Some businesses are also hiring private security firms to deter thieves. The BusinessWatch Group said it has seen an upturn in enquires from businesses in the St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives areas for round-the-clock patrols, CCTV and alarm systems. In Huntingdon alone the company said it has seen a 60 per cent increase in businesses. Richard Olsen, managing director, said: "As people have become more aware of the issues they have looked to introduce or increase security measures around their property. "We have had calls from churches, doctors' surgeries, building firms, private homeowners and businesses asking for advice about how best to protect their property from this kind of theft. "Properties that wouldn't normally need round-the-clock security patrols or CCTV cameras, such as churches and schools, are now having to consider these as necessary options. "One homeowner who lives in a village near Huntingdon has contracted us to provide an onsite security officers and regular mobile patrols by security officers after having the lead stolen from the roof of part of his property. That's how seriously people are taking the threat." According to police figures, the theft of lead in Cambridgeshire has risen by 67 per cent this year. In the Diocese of Ely alone, which includes Huntingdonshire, more than \u00A31million worth of damage has been caused to church buildings. On average it has cost individual churches \u00A350,000 to repair or replace the damage caused by metal thieves. Detective Inspector Martin Brunning, who is leading Operation Saruman, said all incidents were being treated very seriously. "It is costing churches, schools and other community organisations thousands of pounds to replace metal and repair the damage done. "Thieves are also taking greater risks to steal and potentially dangerous incidents have included thieves cutting through live electricity and gas mains, damaging sub power stations and removing water tanks causing flooding to buildings." The BusinessWatch Group, based in Peterborough, said it is taking on extra staff to cope with demand - 23 additional security guards have been employed since August, including seven in Huntingdonshire. INFORMATION: Anyone with information relating to the theft of metal is asked to contact Cambridgeshire police on 0845 4564564 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.