Metal theft crackdown in Plymouth: The cost of the crime
Metal thieves in Plymouth were targeted by police yesterday, with more than 40 officers on guard at four stop-check sites.
There police inspected vehicles, in a bid to crack down on criminals who transport the stolen material.
Metal theft has become an increasingly high-profile problem in recent years. The major targets are copper, lead, aluminium, brass, zinc, nickel, platinum and bronze. These metals are being stolen in many forms - from extracting copper wiring from the ground to stealing statues from parks.
These are then typically sold to a third party such as a scrap metal dealer who will melt them down or recycle them for their intrinsic value. Scrap metal is often exported to developing industrial markets such as China.
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A costly crime
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) estimates metal theft costs the UK economy approximately £770 million per year.
In May this year the Association of British Insurers (ABI) claimed insurers are paying out more than £1m a week to victims of metal theft. The association - which represents the insurance industry - said metal theft in the UK had doubled in the past five years to about 1,000 reported incidents a week.
The British Transport Police (BTP), which has lead policing responsibility for metal theft, experienced 2,000 incidents in 2010/11 compared with approximately 1,500 in 2009/10.
The Metropolitan Police suspects that the true ﬁgure for metal theft incidents in their Force area may be at least 30–40% more than has currently been identiﬁed.
Metal theft is a market-driven offence, meaning its prevalence is closely linked to the price of metals on international markets. This is expected to rise until at least 2015.
Grinding to a halt
Metal theft has blighted the railways in recent years. According to a House of Commons Transport Committee report published in January, Network Rail reports that cable theft has cost the railway as a whole £43 million and 16,000 hours of passenger delays in the past three years.
In its written evidence submitted to the report, the ACPO said: “There are also unquantiﬁable costs to society which could include the danger to patients at hospitals because of the loss of power caused by metal theft or the environmental costs of more freight returning to the roads because of metal theft on the railways.”
The ACPO said that in July last year 16,000 telephone customers and 26,000 broadband customers lost services in the Southampton area following an attempted cable theft in Salisbury. This also caused the disconnection of the 999 services, the National Air Trafﬁc Service and parts of the Ministry of Defence's communication.
And the issue poses a danger to metal thieves themselves – the ACPO says at least 10 people have been killed over the past year whilst attempting to steal metal.
As it stands, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 places controls on scrap metal dealers such as a requirement to register with the local authority. There have been calls for the Act to be reformed to bolster controls on scrap metal dealers.
The Government has taken a variety of steps to tackle the problem. On November 29 last year the Chancellor George Osborne announced £5 million of Treasury funding to launch a new multi-agency national metal theft taskforce, to be led by the BTP.
And on January 26 this year the Home Secretary Theresa May announced the Government would be legislating to ban cash payments to purchase scrap metal. The Government will also be legislating to dramatically increase the fines for all relevant offences under the existing Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, she said.
According to the ACPO, four steps must be taken to tackle metal theft. Firstly, it says, it is vital to increase the effort required to steal metal by improving its security. Secondly, it is important to increase the risk to offenders by ensuring that the theft of metal is no longer seen to be low risk, by supporting the use of targeted enforcement action.
Thirdly, the ease and reward to offenders of selling stolen metal must be reduced, and dealers must be given the tools to identify stolen metals.
Fourthly, the risk to dealers handling stolen metals must be increased. This will place a greater responsibility on scrap metal dealers to take all reasonable steps to ensure they are not unintentionally supporting criminal activity.
Yesterday’s crackdown - codenamed Operation Juggler – was part of a wider scheme launched on Monday - Operation Tornado – across the south of England. The aim is to tackle the blackmarket trade in metal.
Scrap metal yards across the region have been asked to sign up to a scheme over the past few weeks under which anyone trying to sell metal at a yard must provide either a UK photocard driving licence or a UK passport, supported by proof of address such as a utility bill not more than three months old.
A pilot scheme in North East England saw a significant drop in metal thefts as criminals were hampered in their efforts to sell on stolen metal.