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LGA - Metal thefts down by a third

Metal thefts have fallen by a third in the past year, as councils lead efforts to combat unscrupulous thieves targeting churches, desecrating war memorials and causing disruption by stealing electric cables and metal from railway lines.

Latest figures show there were 40,680 metal thefts in England and Wales in 2013/14 – down from 59,788 in the previous 12 months.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the decline in metal thefts – which cost the economy around £770 million a year - follows the new Scrap Metal Dealers Act which came into force in October 2013 alongside a range of other measures to tackle the crime.

Under the law, every scrap metal dealer had to obtain a licence from their local council to trade. Town halls have been able to refuse or revoke licences, have new powers of entry and inspection and the ability to shut down rogue dealers.

The LGA said councils have worked hard to issue nearly 8,000 licences to scrap metal dealers since the Act came into force.

It is also now illegal for anyone to buy or sell scrap metal with cash while traders have to keep records of names and addresses of scrap metal suppliers. This is increasing traceability for all transactions and making it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen metal to scrapyards.

Councils across the country have been assisting the police to prosecute unlicensed traders and shut down scrap metal businesses that break the law.

Other figures include:

  • Infrastructure-related metal thefts – including from railway lines, church roofs and machinery – dropped by 41 per cent in the past year
  • The number of metal theft offences recorded each month more than halved from 6,609 in April 2012 to under 3,000 in March 2014
  • The South-east region (Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Thames Valley) saw the biggest fall in metal thefts dropping 46 per cent from 7,580 in 2012/13 to 4,105 in 2013/14
  • Metal thefts in London fell 44 per cent from 3,536 in 2012/13 to 1,966 in 2013/14
  • The north-west region (Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside) saw metal thefts drop 40 per cent from 8,231 in 2012/13 to 4,907 in 2013/14.

The LGA is urging the Government to continue investing in council and police efforts to co-ordinate enforcement action and gather intelligence to target and disrupt criminal networks and keep up the pressure on metal thieves.

Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

"The scourge of metal theft costs the country hundreds of millions of pounds a year and has a hugely negative impact on communities, businesses and councils.

"It sees trains disrupted, precious memorials desecrated, church and library roofs vandalised, children's playground equipment targeted and road signs stolen.

"Such a significant drop in metal thefts is excellent news for communities who have suffered from the chaos, disruption and heartache caused by unscrupulous metal thieves.

"Councils were long-calling for new laws to help them regulate the scrap metal industry in order to make it more difficult for thieves to flog their stolen goods to scrap yards.

"It is great to see it 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."

Case studies

  • Milton Keynes Council and Thames Valley Police served the first closure notice at a business under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act last month (January). The site had been warned to stop buying and selling scrap metal as they had not been granted a licence.
  • An unlicensed scrap metal dealer was ordered to pay costs and fines totalling £1,961 after pleading guilty to illegally trading. It followed a joint-operation by Lichfield District Council and police – dubbed Operation Tornado – which saw scrap metal collectors stopped and checked to ensure they were licensed and keeping records.
  • A scrap metal collector was left lamenting his lack of paperwork after he was ordered to pay out more than £800 for not keeping a record of his haul, the first prosecution of its kind brought in Haringey.
  • East Staffordshire Borough Council recently assisted in the prosecution of a scrap metal dealer found working without a licence and using a loudspeaker to advertise for business.

Notes to editors

  1. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 replaced the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act and was passed in Parliament in February 2013.
  2. Scrap metal dealer licences last for three years and trading without a licence or buying metal with cash is now a criminal offence. Anyone looking to sell scrap metal will need a licence and provide ID at the point of sale which is recorded by the scrap metal dealer. A central public register of all those licensed is kept by the Environment Agency.
  3. Anyone operating as a scrap metal dealer without a licence faces a fine of up to £5,000.
  4. The latest metal theft crime statistics, from the ONS, can be found here: www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_386943.pdf


Greg Burns, Senior Media Relations Officer
Local Government Association
Telephone: 020 7664 3184
Email: greg.burns@local.gov.uk
Media Office (for out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ

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