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Police Call For More Powers To Tackle Metal Theft

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#1 OFFLINE   Duffman


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Posted 25 October 2010 - 06:55 am


British Transport Police is calling for tougher powers to tackle the growing problem of metal theft.
There have been more than 5,000 such thefts from the railways and the gas and electricity networks this year.
Officers have told BBC News the rising price for refined copper means they expect the problem to get worse.
They want the power to shut suspected rogue scrap metal dealers on the spot in the same way they can close pubs, with the decision reviewed by a court.

The last two years have seen the price of refined copper more than double.
At the end of 2008 it was selling it at a low of less than £2,000 a tonne, but by earlier this month it had reached more than £5,000.

Police say the levels of theft have mirrored the rise and fall in prices, and with the value of scrap expected to continue to rise into next year they fear the problem will become even more acute.
Traditionally, the thieves have stolen the copper cable used in railway signalling, as well as the metal cable used in electricity sub-stations. But as prices have risen, memorial plaques, statues and even catalytic converters have become targets.

Tony Glover, spokesman for the Energy Networks Association which represents electricity infrastructure companies in the UK, says the resale value of what is stolen is often minimal. "It is pathetic, quite frankly. As a crime it is sometimes as little as £5, £10, £20, never more than £100 worth in terms of the value of the copper," he said. "But it's impact is enormous - it's almost like an act of vandalism. Some of our equipment is oil insulated and a £5 brass valve - that's all they stole - resulted in 30,000 litres of oil coming out of some equipment. "Luckily it was contained but had we not, it could have caused accidents, got into the water table, had an impact on wildlife. It really is a huge problem."

Supt Paul Brogden, from British Transport Police (BTP), says the thefts have the capacity to cause chaos to commuters.
He said: "It's a wide variety - specific to the rail industry it's signalling, overhead cable, and essentially a small amount - say a couple of metres - it can put a whole rail infrastructure at risk in terms of closure of the network, clearly causing misery to thousands of commuters, and we've had incidents of that recently."

BTP says the problem is one of the biggest threats that it faces after terrorism, but it is working with outdated legislation. At the moment stolen metal, in effect, is laundered. It is taken to an unscrupulous scrap dealer who does not check too closely where it has come from, or who the person bringing it in is. From there it is sold to legitimate dealers who have no idea they are buying stolen metal.

Now police want tougher powers to clamp down on the problem.
Police want to see CCTV brought in to record who brings in the scrap metal, with the seller having to provide a photo ID to prove who they are. They also want powers to close down suspected rogue dealers on the spot, and they want metal users to consider embossing their metal to make it less attractive to steal.

The British Metals Recycling Association, which represents the scrap metal industry, says it would welcome some of the moves, such as the introduction of CCTV. But it says its main concern is to ensure that the police and Environment Agency, which licences scrap dealers, have the resources to enforce any new rules.
Otherwise they say they fear the good dealers will be undercut by the bad, and the bad by the worst.

#2 OFFLINE   Headset57


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Posted 25 October 2010 - 04:59 pm


British Transport Police (BTP) conducted a widespread operation across several counties to crack down on metal thieves on Friday, 22 October.

As part of Operation Ablett, BTP officers were out in force in a bid to show prospective metal and cable thieves, as well scrap metal dealers who flout the law, that crime doesn't pay.

The day of action comes on the back of another year of increasing metal prices on world markets, which have been mirrored by a similar rise in the number of thefts of rail, cable and other metal.

Superintendent Paul Brogden, who headed the operation for BTP, said: "Cable theft is one of the biggest issues facing the rail industry today.

“Each year the actions of cable thieves cost train operating companies, Network Rail, public utilities companies and local communities millions of pounds in repairs and lost business.”

The operation took place across several areas including north and east London, Essex, the Thames Valley, Coventry, Northampton and Rugby.

More than 40 scrap metal dealers were visited and searched and a total of nine formal written warnings were given for inadequate record keeping.

Warnings were given to dealers in Rugby, Southend, Grays, Basildon, Benfleet, Harlow, Witney, Banbury and Hackney.

Seven arrests were made in dawn raids in Bow (east London), Stanmore, Pangbourne (two men arrested), Coventry and Northampton (one man and one woman arrested).

“Thankfully the thieves are not putting rail passengers at risk when signal cable is damaged because any signals attached to a severed cable will automatically switch to red, halting any trains on the track,” added Supt Brogden.

“But the culprits are certainly putting themselves in harm’s way. The majority of cable thieves are opportunist and as such will have little or no understanding of the cable they attempt to steal.

"Some of this cable carries extremely high voltage and we have seen a number of cases in which thieves have been seriously injured, suffering extensive burns, after cutting through live cable."

The operation was the latest response to cable and general metal theft, which saw BTP officers continue to target thieves and their means of carrying and selling on stolen cable.

Cable seized on the day included:

- 10 tons of electricity power cabling from the Reading area.

- One ton of suspect copper cabling and 25 bags of copper piping found at a scrap yard in Benfleet.

- Twenty-five 5ft lengths of cabling recovered from the Romford area.

- Five tons of railway cabling recovered from Wokingham area.

- Half a ton of cabling (believed to belong to BT and Network Rail) recovered from the Coventry area.

Notes to Editors:
Details of arrests (all bailed pending further enquiries).

21 year old man from Pangbourne, Berkshire.
20 year old man from Reading, Berkshire.
40 year old man from Bow, east London.
34 year old man from Stanmore, north west London.
43 year old man and a 49 year-old woman, no fixed abode, but known to Northampton area.
42 year old man from Coventry.


British Transport Police (BTP) is calling for new measures to tackle the increasing problem of metal theft.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther, who also leads the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Conductive Metal Theft Working Group, has called for measures which would allow senior police officers to close down scrap metal dealers who fail to abide by industry standard working practices.

DCC Crowther said: “We need the powers to tackle the heart of this problem effectively, allowing us to shut down scrap metal dealers who continue to flout the law and provide a market for thieves through buying and selling stolen metal.

“With the high price of metal on world markets at the moment, thieves who sell to willing or unwitting dealers are getting good returns for their criminal activity.

“This is a crime which really impacts on people’s everyday lives. Take, for example, the small business left struggling because their broadband cable has been ripped out by thieves simply looking to make a quick buck.

“Metal theft is far from a victimless crime and can cause enormous problems for local communities and industry.”

During 2008, offences on BTP jurisdiction rose, however, towards the end of the year there was a reduction in the frequency of offences as metal prices fell.

In 2009, there was a slow, but steady rise in the number of crimes recorded by BTP, which almost directly mirrored the increase in metal prices.

To date, in 2010, there has been a significant rise in the number of incidents recorded by BTP, culminating in a new record being set in April when just less than 300 incidents were reported during the month.

This year to date BTP has recorded 1,855 cable-related offences and has effected almost 500 arrests.

DCC Crowther added: “In recent months we have seen significant problems caused to both the East and West Coast Mainline due to cable theft with both routes suffering extensive delays and cancellations.

“Away from the railways, the actions of metal thieves have left entire communities, including hospitals and other vital services, without power. They have caused widespread broadband failures, and have even stripped some towns of their war memorials.”

BTP and local police forces have been working hard to tackle those involved in the thefts, but senior officers now feel the time has come to address the methods used by thieves to sell the stolen metal.

The ACPO group, which includes representatives from the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA), has helped to draft a code of conduct for scrap metal dealers – setting out a number of conditions all dealers should adhere to, including:

  • All reasonable steps should be taken to ensure stolen metals are not bought
  • Metals should only be accepted from those who present sufficient proof of identity and ownership (paper trails make it far easier for authorities to trace those who bring in stolen metals)
  • All staff should be trained in administrative processes and all paperwork should be relevant and kept up-to-date
  • Suspicious people and transactions should be reported to the police
  • Dealers should co-operate with police and local authorities by allowing access and inspection when requested
In addition, ACPO would like to see an end to cash transactions at scrap dealers. This would stop thieves being able to make a ‘quick buck’ and would introduce a secondary level of identification as all payments would have to be made to a named account.

The code of conduct is close to being ratified by the industry and could hold the key to further success in tackling metal theft.

DCC Crowther continued: “The BMRA has been has acted responsibly in looking to bring in the voluntary code of conduct and I would like to thank them for this approach.

“But this would only cover their members and could disadvantage them, as non-members could flout the code and potentially earn more business as a result.

“We would, therefore, like to see the practices of the code made enforceable across the industry – setting clear guidelines for all scrap metal dealers.

“Police forces have seen success with licensing laws, which govern bars, pubs and clubs and allow officers to close them down if the terms of their licence are breached. We want see if similar legislation could help us tackle this form of criminality.”

Dyan Crowther, director of operational services, Network Rail, said: “Metal thieves targeting the railway are causing misery to thousands of passengers, with many people missing business appointments or having disruption to holidays and days out through the selfish and dangerous actions of a few.

"We are doing everything we can to deter such thefts and protect our vital railway. Working in partnership with the police, more and more culprits and scrap metal dealers are being caught. We support any move that gives police the ability to close down dealers who are acting illegally in order to remove the market for stolen metal.”

Gary Cooper, Head of Operations at the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said: "A few thoughtless people stealing cable and those that pay them for it regularly cause significant disruption for many passengers due to trains being delayed and cancelled. Cable thieves who go on the railway lines are also putting themselves at risk of serious injury.

"Train companies are working closely with Network Rail and BTP to reduce and eventually eliminate this dangerous and disruptive crime, but tougher measures are needed to help tackle it.

“We fully support new measures for the police to close down those metal dealers who encourage illegal trade in copper cable, and therefore remove the market for thieves."

Notes to Editors:
Metal Theft – a history

Towards the end of 2008 the price of refined copper on world markets began to fall – to a low of $3,000/tonne in December 2008. But, throughout 2009 the markets recovered somewhat and the price of copper rose steadily month by month.

So far, 2010 has been a year of sharp rises and small dips. April/May saw a high of just below $8,000/tonne, prices then fell during the summer, but have since risen again to an unprecedented high in early October of $8,215 per tonne – equivalent to £5,117. Despite this record high, industry experts predict the price of copper and other metals will rise even further throughout 2010 and into 2011.

During 2008 live cable offences on BTP jurisdiction rose by approximately four per cent and non-live by approximately 30 per cent (year on year), however, towards the end of the year there was a reduction in the frequency of offences as the metal prices began to fall.

In 2009, there was a slow, but steady rise in the number of crimes recorded by BTP which almost directly mirrored the increase in metal prices.

To date, in 2010, there has been a significant rise in the number of incidents recorded by BTP, culminating in a new record being set in April when just less than 300 incidents were reported during the month.

Whilst this monthly figure has reduced during recent months, recorded crimes are still relatively high and are likely to rise in line with the cost of metal.

Who steals metal and cable?

There is no generic cable or metal thief and experience has shown that it can be anyone from as young as 12. However, the vast majority are opportunist thieves out to make a quick profit – often to feed some form of habit such as alcohol or drug dependency.

Of course, there are those who are more organised and utilise heavy duty equipment to steal metal and cable. Police have also seen evidence of insider jobs, whereby people working on maintenance projects, who have ready access to large amounts of metal, carry out the thefts.

The vast majority of thefts are carried out by the low-level criminals and, historically, have taken place in the north east of England. However, recently the problem has spread and is now being experienced in Wales, the midlands and in north London.

#3 OFFLINE   Ultra Vires

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 02:47 am

It's almost too late. I wasn't aware the rail networks were suffering, but since reading this, it makes sense.

Roofs of properties, especially non-dwellings, really get hammered the hardest by lead/metal theft. Trouble is, this of course is just theft. When we do catch the metal thieves, they get stuck on fairly lightly for just that; "theft".

I know many officers who arrest for burglary, I've since found out it's just out of principle and gets knocked down by the CPS (because it has to). Legislation has badly been needed, the burglary subsection in the Theft Act was drafted in times where there was absolutely no need to cater for 'thieving from roofs'! What need back then was there in '68? Nowdays, knowing the contacts to sell scrap (who ask no questions) is much more lucrative than, say, entering, nabbing the plasma TV and therefore risking a prison sentence for the burglary.

By the time the BTP and the rest of the police family get these 'new powers', or Parliament amend the Theft Act, there will only be the wooden planks of the rail network left.

Perhaps this ACPO recommendation for a kind of 'scrap dealer charter' may help, but the bulk of the problem, at least in my opinion, still relies on the legislative deterrent.

#4 OFFLINE   Administrative Account

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Posted 26 October 2010 - 02:55 am

Roofs of properties, especially non-dwellings, really get hammered the hardest by lead/metal theft. Trouble is, this of course is just theft. When we do catch the metal thieves, they get stuck on fairly lightly for just that; "theft".

That's the problem. Extra powers are all well and good, but unless people are actually going to get punished when in court, then it's all a waste of time and somewhat academic.

#5 OFFLINE   Duffman


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Posted 26 October 2010 - 06:38 pm


To underline this issue, coincidentally, there is an article about this very subject on the BBC News website:

Thieves have taken £36,000 of copper from two Cambridgeshire companies.

Five cages of copper cable were taken from a factory unit off the A14 at Ellington, Huntingdon, between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.

In a separate incident, copper fittings worth £6,000 were stolen from a building site in Longsands Road, St Neots.

A truck was used to pull the door off a steel container where the fittings were stored some time over the weekend.

#6 OFFLINE   Duffman


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Posted 27 October 2010 - 02:44 pm

And another today (I'll stop now!):


The number of metal thefts in Telford, Shropshire, have increased during the past two weeks, police say.

Cable valued at £1,000 was taken from a yard at Rollason's in Wellington during Monday night.

A West Mercia Police spokesman said there had been an increase in such thefts in the area, not only at businesses but also at empty houses.

Copper piping had been taken from some unoccupied premises, the spokesman said.

Police will be working with scrap yards and scrap merchants in an attempt to discover how the thieves are getting rid of their stolen metal, he added. "We're also keen to hear from anyone who wants to report suspicious vehicles such as vans or lorries that are being loaded up at unusual times such as the middle of the night," the spokesman said.

#7 OFFLINE   Stumblebum



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Posted 27 October 2010 - 04:31 pm

This is an horrendous problem where I work.
I get people in for this offence EVERY set of duties - in fact I had 3 detained last night, caught stripping lead from the roof of the local Lidl (yes, I have already heard the joke about it beig the most expensive thing there!)

We have a now closed naval base close by (HMS Mercury) that has been literally stripped of every piece of metal there over the past year.

The chaps brought in last night have admitted thet they use google earth, to locate and target properties with lead/copper roofing and then go on to use it to plot their entry/exit and escape routes!

#8 OFFLINE   Duffman


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Posted 28 October 2010 - 08:17 am

We have a now closed naval base close by (HMS Mercury) that has been literally stripped of every piece of metal there over the past year.

That's a shame; I did my basic training at HMS Mercury near Petersfield but know the MoD have just let it slide into disrepair.... My old accommodation block on the crescent road is still there though....

#9 OFFLINE   Jaystars


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Posted 28 October 2010 - 11:06 am

Suffered a 40min delay this morning after some thieves nicked cables from the train line during the night.