Metal theft has halved in the past year despite continuing concerns from scrap dealers over police enforcement of the cash ban, which has been in place for the past six months.
Detective Superintendent Alison Evans, who leads the British Transport Police (BTP) taskforce on metal theft, told MRW: “From 2011/12 to 2012/13, we’ve seen a decrease in overall metal theft by 47% and a decrease on railways (the BTP’s responsibility), by 51%.”
Speaking exclusively to MRW, Evans said the decrease will have been influenced by the cash ban but it was not solely down to the change in the law in England and Wales on 3 December 2012.
At the time, police said the ban, introduced as an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), would “seriously curtail the market for stolen metal”.
But Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metal Recyclers Association (BMRA) told MRW that police and crime commissioners had “gone to sleep” on the issue of metal theft.
“With the cash ban there is very little police activity at the moment. That’s not good for the legitimate operator, because he knows full well that there are people down the road cheating and, if they’re not being followed up and chased, the levels of cheating will grow and grow,” said Hetherington.
He says he has spoken to a third of BMRA members in the last two months and each one has reported a reduced police presence since the ban came into force.
But Evans (left) said there was “less overt activity”, because around the 84% of scrap metal dealers that had signed up to Operation Tornado, a voluntary identification scheme for scrap metal dealers had been introduced before the ban.
She explained: “Those who signed up to the scheme were assigned a red, amber or green status depending on how compliant they were and if there were waste disposal concerns.”
The enforcement approach was now focused on those that there were concerns about, she added, “rather than it being a bit scatter gun and ad hoc.”
Evans also said police were now able to act on intelligence from partners including BT, National Rail and the Environment Agency, rather than by simply visiting or raiding sites.
The BTP would not disclose the numbers of raids carried out since the cash ban came into force but, as MRW reported, only five scrap yards were caught breaking the law in the first week and there was a national crackdown on illegal waste sites, including scrap dealers, in March.
The police said there had been three prosecutions for LASPO contravention.
Evans said there was a bigger picture: “If we have intelligence that there is potentially cash activity going on, that will lead us to see if there is any other type of offending behaviour. It may well be that an investigation will find not only are they paying in cash, but they are evading income tax, or handling stolen goods or money laundering.
“The maximum you can get [for contravening the cash ban] is a large fine but if we move into money laundering we are looking at bigger sentences.”
- Evans added that preparations to enforce the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in 2014 were underway. She said work was currently going on to embed knowledge of the Act in front line officers as well as strategies to enforce it. The act will come into force in October this year.