Metal recyclers have disputed Government claims of success in driving down theft of the material through legislation.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in November showed a 38% year-on-year drop in metal theft offences recorded by the police.
Home Office minister Sarah Newton said the figures showed the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SMDA) 2013 was proving to be effective.
But some in the industry say there may have been other reasons for the drop.
Compliance firm Valpak’s policy analyst David Daw wrote in a comment on MRW’s original story: “Surely the low price for scrap recently must also be a major reason for fall.”
Responding to an MRW request, the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA)’s chief executive Robert Fell agreed that “historically low” prices were a factor.
But he warned: “We are beginning to see metal prices increase – lead is going from strength to strength – and our real concern is metal theft is about to make a comeback.”
Fell (pictured) said the ONS figures failed to differentiate between metal theft and other offences, due to previous shortcomings by police in their reporting of the crime.
He said politicians could not claim full credit for the drop because metal thefts began falling in 2011, before the legislation was introduced, due to stronger enforcement of earlier laws.
Fell added that Operation Tornado, a scheme in 2012 which required scrap sellers to provide photo ID and proof of address, led to a more than 50% cut in metal theft.
“These reductions were largely maintained following the introduction of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act and, latterly, the SMDA in 2013,” he said. “Yet, since September 2014, there has been no specific police funding to tackle metal theft.”
He added that media coverage had also contributed to the fall in metal thefts, increasing the risk of handling potentially stolen metals.