Metal thieves are stripping lead and copper off the roof of a historic city swimming baths – leaving the tax payer with a bill which runs into tens of thousands of pounds.

Grade II listed Moseley Road Baths, in Balsall Heath, is being targeted on a nightly basis by criminals who were risking their lives scaling the imposing walls armed with ladders and tools.

The thieves are wrecking the renovation programme which was started last December after a fire exit surround was found to be in danger of collapse and large amounts of asbestos was discovered in the basement in the summer.

The criminals have caused further leaks and rot in the roof after they stripped the lead off and displaced slates by treading on them.

Thieves have also targeted the valuable copper lightning conductor at the base of the boiler house chimney which if removed, would put the building at risk if hit by lightning. Councillor Martin Mullaney, cabinet member for sport and culture, said the council would be using £80,000, which was recently added to the total £1.75 million bill, to repair the lead flashing and they still were on target to re-open in mid to late January.

Coun Mullaney said: “We could have spent that £80,000 on something else if people weren’t stealing the lead. We have met with English Heritage who have given us permission to replace all lead flashing with a substitute material called ‘turncoat’ stainless steel.

“This material looks like lead after weathering, but has the advantage of being very difficult to remove.

“Lead is soft and rips, perfect for the metal thief. Stainless steel is stiff, can be nailed in place and has to cut by hacksaw.

“Our bath staff are going up on the roof not knowing what they are going to see – if more stuff has been stolen or they will find a body.

“It’s a complex roof structure with weak places. We have looked at putting up barriers to stop them getting on the roof but it’s expensive and they would still get over them.”

Coun Mullaney said they are preparing to put in a Heritage Lottery bid next April and are in discussions with the council to establish a level of match funding.