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Paying the price for crime wave

Friday 1 February 2013 4:00

Theft of metal is costing businesses in the North East dear, as Peter Jackson reports.

Metal theft accounts for one in six of all thefts across all sectors according to the Home Office and empty properties are the most vulnerable targets.

VPS, responsible for managing more than 90,000 vacant properties in the UK and abroad, is warning owners of empty premises about the risks and costs to businesses from the rising trend of metal theft reported in the Home Office’s latest Crime against businesses survey.

Chief Superintendent Dave Orford, lead for metal thefts in County Durham and Darlington, has said that metal theft accounts for between 5% and 10% of overall crime. And North East public transport executive Nexus estimated metal theft has cost the Tyne and Wear Metro system considerably more than £300,000 in the financial year April 1 2012.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has estimated that metal theft costs the UK economy about £770m a year, with other sources estimating that additional costs together with unreported crimes pushes that figure to more than £1bn.

The British Transport Police, which has lead policing responsibility for metal theft, experienced 2,000 incidents in 2010/11 compared with approximately 1,500 in 2009/10. It says that the prevalence of metal theft is closely tied to the price of metals on international markets, which is expected to rise until at least 2015..

Published on January 24, the VPS survey asked about the latest incident of burglary and the latest incident of theft by others, with around one in six respondents reporting that items had been taken for their scrap metal value.

“This data almost certainly underestimates the actual size of the problem, as there isn’t a specific offence citing metal theft, so these crimes may get included within other categories and also because many metal and lead thefts, such as from Church roofs or telecommunication cabling were not included in this survey,” said Simon Alderson, commercial director of VPS.

“Unoccupied commercial premises are likely to bear the brunt of the estimated total £1bn costs to repair the damage and replace stolen items from these crimes, and this report highlights the need for owners or landlords to strengthen their security and protection for their vacant properties.”

The Government has set out proposals to repeal the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act and replace it with a new regime to regulate the scrap metal trade. This has been taken up by Richard Ottaway, who has taken it through the House of Commons as the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill 2012-13 and has this month passed the committee stage in the House of Lords.

Key features of the Bill include giving local authorities the power to revoke and vary scrap metal dealer licences, requiring sellers of metal to provide personal identification at the point of sale, re-enacting and extending the cash payments ban legislated for in the 2012 Act, and giving the police and local authorities new powers to enter and inspect sites.

“We welcome the progression of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill through the House of Lords on its way to becoming law, as it could help cut metal theft in the UK,” said Alderson.

The VPS report revealed that 67,000 metal thefts have were experienced by commercial sectors in 2012 and when asked how much metal theft had occurred during all crimes over the last 12 months, 10% reported metal or lead theft across all the sectors

Already this year hundreds of metal thefts have already been reported including £2,000 of copper cabling from an Asda store due to open in March, in Larkhall , Scotland, and a metal fire escape in Plymouth, also worth about £2,000.