Many police forces will retain their metal theft units after the first national taskforce dedicated to the cause runs its course, the British Transport Police (BTP) has said. But there are fears from those involved in the metals sector that the disbanding of the operation will lead to a new surge in scrap crime.
The National Metal Theft Taskforce was launched in 2012 to oversee the implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which enforced a mandatory licensing regime for all scrap dealers.
The Government supported the initiative with £6.5m, but the funding is due to end in October.
Superintendent Alison Evans, who heads the operation, said that police forces will continue to work with affected industries and communities to combat metal theft.
“Although funding for the taskforce will end in October, many forces will retain dedicated metal theft teams,” she said.
“Frontline officers across the country are now better informed regarding metal theft, and the tactics advocated by the taskforce have been adopted as business as usual.”
She added that as a result of the sharing of best practice and information the police forces’ approach to metal theft had improved in terms of detection and reduction.
Metal theft declined by 44% year-on-year in 2012-13, and the BTP expects to see a further drop in the figures for 2013-14, which will be published by the Home Office later this year.
Insurance claims by churches for metal theft have also decreased, down from 659 in the first half of 2012 to 195 for the same period this year, according to specialist insurer Ecclesiastical Insurance.
However, there are concerns that scrap crime could rise after the operation ends and many have called for it to be kept in place.
Graeme Carus, deputy president of the British Metals Recycling Association and business development director at European Metals Recycling, said: “The taskforce has done an outstanding job in coordinating the activities of Home Office police forces across England and Wales to bear down on metal thieves and provide a central repository of expertise on metal theft and related matters.
“The complex regulations embedded in the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act need to be effectively policed if we are not to see a further proliferation of illegal dealers paying cash for metal, providing an outlet for stolen metal and fuelling an unwelcome growth in metal theft.”
A spokeswoman for Ecclesiastical Insurance said: “It is vital that the work carried out by the taskforce continues and further funding for their work is found.
“There is still a great deal left to do to eradicate this crime completely and to protect our country’s infrastructure and heritage buildings.”
Tony Glover, director of policy at the Energy Networks Association, which represents the wires and pipes network operators and contributed to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft, said: “We hope that with its demise police forces across the country will continue to focus on the crime through their own metal theft units.
“If not then there is a real danger that the falls in metal theft crime we have seen since the new legislation will be reversed.”
- Read Superintendent Evans’ comment in full here.