It is feared that networks are emerging and thefts of valuable metals are becoming a very profitable activity for organised gangs.
With a recent survey showing that up to 250,000 aluminium and stainless steel beer kegs might have gone missing between January and August last year, many are thought to have been taken for smelting or crushing and resold, taking advantage of the current high prices.
Aluminium Federation (ALFED) technical director Mark Askew said: “Thefts of aluminium are distressingly common and some significant quantities are stolen usually, but not always, without violence.
The scale of the problem has been highlighted by West Midlands Police who are looking closely at transport-related thefts. A working party has been set up to focus on reducing such crimes, with metals a key focus.
Askew added: “The number of major thefts is increasing, but they seem to happen sporadically. We operate a confidential phone service where people can pass on information regarding thefts or potential thefts which is then usually passed on to the target company for them to deal with as they see fit.”
The organisation also circulates an email alert that covers the majority of the production and recycling industries in the UK when material is stolen and it has run a number of seminars focusing on metal theft from premises.
It is a problem that the British Beer Pub Association (BBPA) is embracing through its ‘Keg Watch’ Scheme. One scrap dealer was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment last year for possessing £12,000 worth of containers.
BBPA director of communications Mark Hastings said: “This is a severe and growing problem for the industry, with keg theft now on a large scale.
“Anyone dealing illegally in stolen kegs needs to know that surveillance is being increased, and sooner or later they are going to get caught. Those found guilty can face stiff fines and even imprisonment. It is just not worth it.”