The pressure is mounting on the Scottish Government to push through new regulations to clamp down on metal thieves after extensive cable theft disrupted train services.
A section of the Aberdeen to Inverness line was closed at the end of July after two major incidents of cable theft in the space of three days. Around a quarter of a mile of cable was stolen by an organised gang, which caused major disruption for thousands of passengers.
Measures to ban cash payments for metal and introduce tougher licencing were unveiled earlier in the year by the Scottish Government and consultation on the proposed new regulations closed in June.
Currently, anyone can get cash payments from scrap dealers without proving their identity. New rules for England and Wales under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act mean traders can’t get cash for metal, and they need ID for any trade.
Graeme Pearson MSP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, has accused the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) of dragging their feet on issue of metal theft, allowing rail passengers to be disrupted and companies to suffer losses at the hands of the thieves while they take time to address the problem.
He said: “Metal theft is a significant and growing problem which risks lives and causes substantial damage.
“The SNP Government has failed to move quickly to help close the loopholes which make metal theft more attractive to criminals. The best thing that can be done is to make cash payments for metal illegal.
“The SNP promised action “shortly” and “in the near future” six months ago. While the SNP drag their feet, thousands of passengers continue to be disrupted, churches across the country suffer roofing losses and many other damaging thefts which particularly impact on our infrastructure continue.”
When the Scottish Government reconvenes after parliamentary recess at the start of September the First Minister will give a Programme for Government speech that will outline the bills and legislation that will be taken forward for the coming year. It is hoped the new measures to tackle metal theft can move forward in the autumn, by which time the legislation will be statute in England and Wales.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill stated the SNP are “taking action” to protect the interests of the public and of industry, with an announcement on “a way forward” to come in the autumn after all responses to the consultation are analysed.
He said: “We are determined to tackle the increased incidence of metal theft witnessed during recent years – an issue, which as highlighted by recent incidents, can cause major problems for local communities and major inconvenience for travellers as well as a range of other serious safety and cost issues.”
Nick King, communication manager for Network Rail Scotland, told The Herald newspaper that Network Rail was “keen” to see the regulations from England and Wales brought in throughout Scotland as soon as possible.
He said: “We think it would have a big impact on the resale value, or at the very least the ability to resell. It would take the opportunities thieves out of the market at least.”
A recent study by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland estimated the total value of metal theft in Scotland at £7.5m for 2011 and a further £2.8m for the first half of 2012.