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‘Steady decline’ in English and Welsh metal theft


The first release on metal theft recorded by the police shows a ‘steady decline’ in offences across England and Wales in each quarter of 2012/13, with a 40 per cent fall from April - June 2012 to January - March 2013.

Although metal theft is not a crime defined by law, it is classed as one by police when it falls under broader offence classifications, such as theft and burglary. It refers to thefts of items for the value of their constituent metals, rather than the acquisition of the item.

Report findings

According to the 'Metal theft, England and Wales, financial year ending March 2013' figures, published by the Home Office last Friday (28 November), there were 61,349 metal theft offences recorded by police in 2012/13, accounting for two per cent of the 3.7 million police-recorded crimes in England and Wales for this period.

Of the metal theft crimes, around half (47 per cent) related to metal stolen from infrastructure (such as lead roofs, electricity pipes and manhole covers), while 42 per cent related to non-infrastructure offences (such as the removal of metal from war memorial plaques, and metal gates/fencing). Around 6,600 offences were not classified.

In total, there were 11 metal theft offences per 10,000 members of the population in England and Wales between April 2012 and March 2013.

The available data (from 23 police forces ‘who were considered to have provided reliable data for the financial year ending March 2013’) showed that the majority of metal thefts (63 per cent) were linked to other theft offences.

The remaining metal thefts were linked to burglary offences (20 per cent), offences against vehicles (16 per cent) and other offences (one per cent). The latter category includes ‘drug offences, fraud and forgery, robbery, sexual offences and violence against the person’.

On the whole, the report shows that metal theft crime is falling, with police reporting 20,151 offences in the first quarter of 2012/13 (April to June 2012) and 12,076 in the last quarter (January to March 2013).

However, the Home Office cautions that the data is ‘experimental’ (not fully developed) and thus ‘caution should be applied when interpreting the figures’.

Cracking down on metal theft

The report is the first to be published following on from the requirement for police forces to flag when a crime involved metal theft.

It forms part of the UK government’s increased focus on cracking down on metal theft crime, and follows on from the formation of the £5 million National Metal Theft Taskforce (led by the British Transport Police), and the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.

Tabled by Richard Ottaway MP, the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, replaces the ‘outdated’ 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and puts in place a licensing system for scrap metal dealers.

As part of the new law, all site-based and mobile scrap dealers, including motor salvage operators, are required to hold licences in an attempt to clamp down on rogue traders.

In turn, the licensing authority has to check the criminal records and ‘suitability’ of all applicants, and local authorities and the police now have the power to revoke licences if they suspect a dealer of illegal activity.

Additionally, magistrates can issue fines of up to £5000 to any metal trader they find dealing in cash, operating without a licence or breaching the licence conditions.

Enforcement of the bill was delayed by a month, as central government and local authorities needed more time to provide ‘finalised guidance for operators and licensing authorities and set detailed regulations for the new licensing system for scrap metal dealers’.

As such, the enforcement of the bill came into effect yesterday (1 December).

Speaking after the release of the report, Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “Metal theft has a huge impact on communities and I’m encouraged to see an early reduction in this crime. The early signs are that our changes, including increasing financial penalties, banning cash payments and improving enforcement through the National Metal Theft Taskforce are starting to take hold.

“This crime affects everyone — from the stealing of cables that delay your rail journey home to the shocking theft of war memorials which costs hours of police time. From this weekend it will be illegal for people to trade without a licence. We are sending out a strong message to rogue dealers - you will be caught.”

‘Robust enforcement’ of the law needed

In line with the enforcement date, the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has now urged councils and police to 'robustly enforce' the law to 'foster a positive new era for the sector'.

Ian Hetherington, Director General of the BMRA, said: “It is imperative that the new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act is enforced with vigour. It will be a challenge for local authorities and police due to pressures on resources and a decline in the focus on metal theft. However, the BMRA will work closely with both the police and councils to ensure that it is implemented properly.

“The Home Office figures demonstrate that coordinated and effective enforcement through initiatives such as the National Metal Theft Taskforce can be effective at reducing metal related crime. Sadly from March next year funding for the Taskforce will be withdrawn and it will be disbanded.”

He added: “Without effective enforcement metal theft will increase and police forces will be unable to cope."

Read the 'Metal theft, England and Wales, financial year ending March 2013' figures, or find out more about the Scrap Metal Dealers Act