Winning the war on metal thieves

metal-theftMetal theft is a common, costly and fast-growing crime. The battle lines have been drawn and Government, the police and businesses are stepping up to take on the thieves.

As prices for metals and copper cable escalate, thieves continue to be opportunistic but also more audacious in a bid to get a bigger haul. Thieves target railway lines, church roofs, pipes, beer barrels, war memorials, and catalytic converters and, as recently reported in East Surrey, criminals have even resorted to stealing metal from children’s play areas.

An estimate from the Association of Chief Police Officers puts the total cost of metal theft to the UK economy at £770 million every year, and Local Government Association figures estimate that over 90 per cent of UK councils have been affected.

Recent information released by Nottinghamshire Police, from a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Nottingham Post, showed that only around 10 per cent of metal theft sees someone brought to justice. If that estimate is extrapolated across the UK, it means a huge number of metal thieves are operating outside the arm of the law.

However, measures are being made to crack down on the rogue elements in the scrap metal industry. The Government’s new Scrap Metal Dealers Act will see a national register of scrap yards in force from the start of October, to be run by the district councils, and those operating without the right paperwork could face a fine of up to £5,000. Cash transactions have been made illegal since December 2012 and ID is now required at the point-of-sale.

On the railways they do seem to be making inroads. Figures released earlier in the year by Network Rail showed a 67 per cent decrease in incidents of metal and cable theft in the 12 months to April 2013. This week, British Transport Police data showed cable theft had dropped by 47 per cent in the last year. The end to cashless trading has been cited as a major factor in the drop but incidents remain common-place, causing huge disruption for passengers and financial frustration for rail companies.

CourtroomThere are calls in Scotland for similar measures to ban cash payments and regulate the industry, as seen in England, after two major incidents of cable theft in the space of three days last month closed the Aberdeen to Inverness railway line. Measures have been proposed and the Scottish Government hopes they can be moved forward in the autumn.

In recent months, SecurityNewsDesk have also covered trials and initiatives designed to deter the metal thieve. This includes metal marking techniques to protect lead roof tiles at the historic Northampton Guildhall and a similar scheme to protect electricity sub-stations in Wigan. Yorkshire-based company Trace-in-Metal are also using ballistic technology to fire non-melting coded microdots into lead to be able to trace lead stolen from heritage buildings.

The rogue elements are being targeted by a two-pronged approach. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act will cut down on their activities and metal marking schemes will trace any discovered stolen metal back to its source – which should aid the police in tracking and prosecuting more metal thieves.

The war on metal thieves is gathering momentum; the only question is who will prevail?

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