News Archive

Metal Attack

by msecadm4921

During the past six months metal theft has dramatically increased across the country with more thieves targeting copper, lead and other metals than ever. So warned the authorities at the end of July on a national day of action aimed at addressing one of the UK’s fastest growing crimes.

The thieves often operate on the premise that the crime is almost victimless and no-one, other than large corporations, suffers as a result of their activity. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther, who heads the ACPO Metal Theft Working Group, said: "Every single metal theft is an attack on either an individual or the wider community.

"When thieves steal lead from residential properties it is the householder who suffers – when they steal the same material from a school or church then hundreds of people are potentially affected by the crime.

"That number increases dramatically when the criminals target cabling – particularly rail, power and communications – which can deprive thousands of people of transport links and vital utilities."

On a daily basis metal thieves are having an enormous impact on our lives – often without us realising, the authorities say.

The last time your train was delayed or cancelled, was this caused by cable theft? When your broadband service last dropped out, had cable thieves been at work? When your house insurance premium increased, was this because of the effect of metal theft?

The answer to all of these questions is – probably, say ACPO. Metal theft has a huge impact on our day-to-day lives and to date has been responsible for failure of phone lines to houses and businesses, the collapse of electrical supply to homes, businesses and even hospitals, breaks in supply of gas and water, delays and cancellations on the railway and even the breakdown of traffic lights. Metal theft presents a very real threat to the infrastructure and day-to-day running of the UK, a fact which has brought several organisations together to tackle the issue.

DCC Crowther added: "The police, partner agencies and many industries recognise the threat posed by metal thieves and have been working together to develop ways of addressing the problem.

"We can no longer operate in isolation, dealing with the crime only as it affects our own area of expertise. We have joined together to send a clear message to prospective thieves that should they target any form of metal, they will be tracked down and brought justice.

"That I exactly what this latest day of action, on 29 July, is all about – sending a message to criminals that metal theft is high on the agenda, socially unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

Key to this is the work being done by police forces across the country, with the British Metal Recycling Association, to educate scrap metal dealers and metal recyclers who are often the first port of call for thieves looking to make a quick buck.

British Transport Police (BTP) Detective Sergeant Chris Hearn, who has been working on the issue of metal theft for several years, said: “Often these dealers are unaware that the metal is stolen and can find themselves out of pocket when checks carried out by police result in the material being seized.

“BTP, other forces, agencies and industries have been out to almost all known scrap dealers to show them exactly what should – and shouldn’t – be accepted.

“It is imperative that we continue to work with the BMRA to educate scrap yards, stop them from unwittingly taking in stolen metal and, in turn, reduce the opportunities for thieves to make money.”

But it is not just the UK’s infrastructure which is threatened by the criminal activity, it is also the lives of the thieves themselves.

Tony Glover of the Energy Networks Association said: “Those who steal from the energy infrastructure are dicing with death. Only a couple of weeks ago a 16-year-old was killed in a substation whilst a theft was taking place.

“There have been more than 7,000 Incidents in the past year leading to four fatalities and at least 31 injuries. Stealing from the energy infrastructure is, quite simply, exposing the public to an unnecessary risk.”

And the thieves take this risk for very limited returns, police pointed out.

DS Hearn added: “Whilst the price of metal has increased dramatically during the past few months this is not necessarily passed on to the thieves.

“Certainly, unless metal is taken in large quantities, it is far from a lucrative activity for criminals.”

In Yorkshire, British Transport Police (BTP) is asking for the public’s help after two incidents of cable theft in Pontefract and Knottingley caused outage of signalling cable.

Detective Inspector Mick Jackson of Operation Leopard – BTP’s dedicated cable and metal theft team – said how the incidents, which took place on Tuesday, 19 and Wednesday, 20 July, in total delayed 26 trains.

“The first incident took place on Tuesday on the line close to England Lane, Knottingley, at around 11.50pm. Officers attended and discovered 35 metres of 8 lines of cable had been cut and taken from the scene, causing around £600 of damage. 23 trains were delayed for over 300 minutes.

“On Wednesday, another incident of cable theft took place before midnight close to Pontefract racecourse. Here 50 metres of cable was cut and taken. Three trains were affected causing 28 minutes of delays. Three youths were seen close in the area on the racecourse and officers are appealing for them to come forward.”

Police are now hitting back against the offenders who cause misery for countless passengers

DI Jackson added: “Tackling cable theft is a priority for BTP and we are prepared to do everything within our power – within the limits of the law – to take action against anyone who steals from the railway.

“We will be out and about during the coming days, weeks and months, targeting known hot-spot locations including Castleford, and making life as difficult as possible for would-be thieves.

“My officers understand the misery caused by cable theft and will go to great lengths to deter thieves from targeting the railway.

“When thefts do occur we will use every investigative and forensic tactic available to us to trace those responsible and put them before the courts.”

The theft of cable from the railway has an enormous impact on the travelling public with countless delays and cancellations directly attributable to the crime.

Richard Lungmuss, route director for Network Rail, added: “These arrests send a clear message to the thieves who are targeting our railway and causing misery for passengers – we will catch you. Thieves are targeting our essential rail services on a daily basis. Just one theft causes misery to many hundreds of people and unacceptable delay to vital freight services as well as costing the railway and the wider economy thousands of pounds.

“We will continue to support British Transport Police in order to find those responsible and bring them to justice. I would ask anyone with information about the thieves to contact police or Crimestoppers and help us to keep your railway running.”

DI Jackson added: “We are working extremely closely with Network Rail to address the issue and lessen the impact of cable theft on the communities of West Yorkshire.

Earlier this year, thousands of residents in the area, including Castleford, received a leaflet from British Transport Police through their doors highlighting the effects of cable theft in their community, and warning of the dangers and likely punishment of stealing cable.

Since the campaign was launched, 16 arrests have been made in the area, and officers will continue to combat the tackling issue.

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