Scrap metal prices are encouraging a black market trade

Measures to deal with metal theft in the UK intensify

Efforts to deal with the UK’s escalating metal theft problem are coming to a head, with crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne expected to unveil new, tougher measures to tackle the issue, while a bill to change ‘outdated’ legislation is set to reach report stage in the House of Commons.

Yesterday, BT and Network Rail also gave their full support to Richard Ottaway’s Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.

The bill aims to introduce new regulatory controls on scrap metal dealers to curb the trade in stolen metals, chief of which is the compulsory registration requirement of dealers by local authorities.

“For too long the cash-in-hand and no questions asked culture in the scrap metal industry has allowed criminals to ply their trade under the cloak of anonymity,” said Richard Ottaway, MP for Croydon South.

“As a result of this largely unregulated £5.6bn industry – up to £1.5bn of which thrives tax-free because of a lack of honest record keeping – our transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructure is under constant threat,” he continued.

Last November David Cameron pledged to tackle the epidemic problem, saying the government was working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) in order to do so.

The resulting national taskforce focused on the issue with Treasury funding to the tune of £5m. However, this amount is small fry compared to what metal theft costs the UK economy – an estimated £770m a year.

Legislative changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, were initiated by the government in May, and include prohibiting cash payments for scrap metal, amending police powers of entry to unregistered scrap metal sites and upping fine amounts for offences under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964.

Forest Dean Council, working with the police, implemented a project back in December 2010, where the three main scrap dealers of the area were visited and record keeping inspected. Under the 1964 Act, dealers are required to keep records of all metal purchased, including the customer’s name, address and vehicle registration number.

“During those early visits, we found a wide variation in the accuracy and completeness of these records,” Matt Kirby, divisional environmental health officer at Forest of Dean, wrote back in August this year, adding that he “fully supports”  the proposals outlined in the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.

“The probem with the 1964 Act,” argued Kirby in the Guardian Online, is that “it requires no identification to be provided for registration, no financial reimbursement for registering local authorities and fines are disproportionate.

“By implementing more stringent licensing controls and a cashless payment system, criminals will find it harder to remain anonymous,” he concluded.

The Energy Networks Association (ENA), Church of England and War Memorials Trust are a few organisations which suffer at the hands of metal thieves and thus support licensing, as well as SITA UK, the recycling specialist.

Critics of the new measures say they will drive the trade further underground, and that cash will still be paid by unlicensed dealers for stolen metal because they stand to make such a hefty profit.

In March this year, it was reported in the Daily Telegraph that foreign criminal syndicates were behind metal theft in Britain.

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