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Metal thefts down by a third

Metal thefts have decreased by a third in the past year, after the introduction of a new licensing regime for the scrap metal sector.

There were 40,680 metal thefts recorded in England and Wales in 2013-14, down from 59,788 in the previous year, according to ONS statistics.

Metal thefts relating to infrastructure such as railway lines, church roofs and machinery dropped by 41%.

Meanwhile thefts in the south-east region saw the largest decline of 46%, along with reductions of 44% in London and 40% in the north-west.

The declines follow the Scrap Metal Dealers Act which came into force in October 2013 mandating that all scrap metal dealers hold a licence. Anyone operating as a scrap metal dealer without a licence faces a fine of up to £5,000. The Act also bans buying or selling scrap metal with cash.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that metal theft costs the economy around £770m annually.

It said councils have issued nearly 8,000 licences to scrap metal dealers since the Act came into force, and they have helped police to prosecute unlicensed traders and shut down illegal scrap metal businesses.

The LGA has urged the Government to continue investing in efforts to co-ordinate enforcement action and gather intelligence to target and disrupt criminal networks.

Ann Lucas, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Such a significant drop in metal thefts is excellent news for communities which have suffered from the chaos caused by unscrupulous metal thieves.

“It is great to see [the Act] is having such a positive impact, but the fact there are still around 40,000 metal thefts a year shows there can be no let up.

“Town halls will continue working closely with police to keep driving metal thieves out of communities and out of operation for good.”

Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) said: “There have not been enough prosecutions under the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and the penalties for successful prosecutions have been ludicrously lenient. In addition, there is an apparent reduction in low level crime matched by an increase in more organised, higher value thefts.”

BMRA: Not enough prosecutions

Ian Hetherington, BMRA director general: “We welcome the news that the number of metal thefts in England and Wales in 2013/4 has fallen by a third but the authorities must not be complacent and rest on their laurels. The police, Environment Agency and local authorities in England and Wales must allocate adequate resources to enforce the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act robustly and effectively otherwise metal thefts will increase at the expense of the legitimate industry and police forces will be overwhelmed.

“The Scottish government needs to bring more focus to its proposed legislative programme and the current proposed bill – the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill – needs to be radically improved if metal theft is to be equally reduced in Scotland.”

“The failure of local authorities to come to terms with the licensing arrangements of the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act would have lessened the uncertainties faced by the industry. Although local authorities caught up, the Environment Agency’s national database of scrap metal dealers falls dramatically short of the expectations of all those concerned and is currently unusable for the purpose it was designed.

“There have not been enough prosecutions under the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act and the penalties for successful prosecutions have been ludicrously lenient. In addition, there is an apparent reduction in low level crime matched by an increase in more organised, higher value thefts.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • The E A Public Register for licensed yards and collectors is a complete waste of time & a waste of tax payers money. In our area we have attempted to identify the status of traders, merchants and collectors and find it impossible due to many factors. I could list the endless reasons which boils down to a lack of interest from the Authorities. If we failed to maintain our records in the way the Authorities have failed to bring the Public Registers in to use and maintain them we would expect swift and rapid fines. Who is "policing" the Authorities? Politicians? BMRA? No one! The latter I think.

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  • The police revealed figures last year that showed that metal theft was spiralling down in 2012 – the same year that they were screaming for more funding to fight metal theft that was spiralling upwards out of control – allegedly! The police were facing funding cuts of course. New legislation was still some way off, publicity and voluntary measures were having an effect. The real difference was that the owners of material containing metal (BT Network Rail?) got off their backsides and got pro-active in protecting it. The Police had shown no interest in large scale, high value, metal theft from scrap yards and little interest in the sort of low level crime that most theft involved. With the politicians involved and a funding war they decided that, we, the scrap dealers would have to do their job for them. It was supposedly our fault for using real money to pay for this metal. The naive and mistaken belief that theft can be prevented by legislation and changing the type of payment is rubbish spouted by idiots. They obviously don’t understand the mind of hard up drug users and the like. Has legislation stopped any type of criminality, has it reduced drug use? No! and it never will. These people had bank accounts and are quite happy to give their details and be paid any way you like – NO ONE IS LOOKING FOR THEM!

    No one is stopping the (licensed) itinerants and making them prove where the load of bikes and washers on the back of their truck has come from, how they paid for it and where is the paperwork for it all. It isn’t happening and do you know what? I’m sure many merchants are glad – some yards rely on these people for tonnage – fortunately I don’t, not directly, although as I do a lot of merchant to merchant trade I would be affected indirectly.

    The new Scrap Metal Dealers Act, just like the old one is not being enforced. Just like before, no one is looking for metal thieves, They wouldn’t know where to start looking, we don’t have a centralised database that they (the Police) can refer to, they have to come and sit in scrap Yards and sift through records- to physically look and they haven’t got the time or inclination, knowing full well that there won’t be a prosecution anyway. To suggest that something that everyone knows is not being enforced could be responsible for the latest drop in metal theft is ridiculous. The people responsible for the farce are desperate to claim credit and put a positive slant on it. The reality, as any scrap dealer will tell you is that prices have fallen by half in the nonferrous market and much further in the ferrous trade. Money talks. The proactive anti-theft measures coupled with low prices (comparatively speaking) are why metal theft is falling. Let’s face it the whole thing was blamed on sky high metal prices, using the same logic, low prices are bound to have the opposite effect. Perhaps now the media hysteria has died down they have started reporting stolen items as what they are –a bike for instance- rather than scrap metal.

    The BMRA tried to put a gloss on a very poor and pointless piece of legislation by suggesting that their members would gain an advantage, and thrive, when the unlicensed cowboys were put out of business. They seemed to believe that lots of people would be refused licenses and as such it was good legislation – they haven’t and it isn’t – and their members need the tonnage that these people bring, it’s the staple diet of many city and town centre yards. I accept that there was very little they could do in the face of a barrage of misinformation and public backlash and it wouldn’t look good for a trade body to speak out against what was being presented (and still is) as a panacea for metal theft. Their current calls for the SMDA to be enforced are a waste of time. The old act had plenty of scope for dealing with errant dealers, no one read it! They certainly never enforced it. The penalties needed updating. How some foolish people could complain about the old act when it was never (ever?) enforced I don’t know.

    The scrap industry is currently going through the toughest times it has seen in recent times. Prices are back where they were ten years ago but critically volumes have slumped – from already low levels. The real issue though is the fight for survival that has started a fight to the bottom in terms of margin. Margins have shrunk to ridiculous levels. Merchants are posting losses and dismal results for 2013-2014 and it’s got much worse since then. Companies are wearing equipment out and exhausting cash and stock reserves whilst making a loss or very small profits. We are now seeing a steady stream of closures and administrations. Companies have been hanging on for better days and it’s not going to happen any time soon. There are too many of us chasing too little business. Meanwhile the travelling itinerants now have a license to do what they do best, set off with a pocket full of money every morning and pay cash for scrap at our customers back doors. They are cruising scrap yards looking to buy anything they can for cash. Most of them are also struggling, the easy, double your money days that they had before, have gone for the foreseeable future. If they get stopped by the police they show them their licence, with no understanding of the law behind it, they are allowed on their way – they have a license after all!

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