Beware scrap metal thieves!

PUBLISHED: 00:17 23 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:28 20 February 2013

Beware scrap metal thieves!

Beware scrap metal thieves!

Converting metal into cash is just too easy, as many in Sussex have discovered to their cost, says Leo Hickish of the Country Land and Business Association

The criminal fraternity follows commodity markets just as keenly as city-based traders. They find it just as easy to reap profit from high prices, too.

Stories of power lines being stripped and causing hours of train delays have been widely reported in the media, and go to show the risks people are prepared to take, such is the attractiveness of metal to thieves. In October last year, many residents of Haywards Heath suffered personally from metal theft when their telephone lines were cut off following the removal of 8,000-worth of copper cabling from a BT cabinet.

Behind the headlines are the rural homes, farms and businesses which suffer metal theft on a regular basis. Some lose thousands of pounds when they have to repair and replace stolen lead and other metals. Farm building roofs, gates, machinery all are fair game. Heritage buildings are particularly expensive for owners to reinstate because local authorities and English Heritage have to agree on suitable alternatives.

You cannot dispute that Sussex Police takes the crime seriously. A team of police officers was formed in Sussex last year to combat metal theft. The team was set up in Wealden district following an increase in thefts from war memorials, church roofs and of drain covers.

Inspector Peter Cowlett said: Were dedicating a few officers around the force to collecting this information, analysing it and targeting some of the more unscrupulous scrap metal dealers in the county. In November last year, Sussex Police held a conference at Slaugham Manor, near Haywards Heath on how to tackle metal thefts and the effect it can have on communities.

Assistant Chief Constable Robin Merrett, commented: These types of crimes can have a huge impact on large parts of the community whether it is a delayed train or no electricity for hours at a time.

Norman Baker, Lewes MP and transport minister, said he was part of a cross-ministerial group looking at the issue. The problem increases as prices of metal goes up on the world market. People are behaving with absolutely no morality.

I commend these actions and agree with the sentiments. However at the root of the problem is the fact that stolen metal is being traded too easily within the scrap metal industry.

Banning cash sales would prevent anonymous transactions because the metal could always be traced back to the person who sold it to the dealer. This is how France, Belgium and parts of the United States have clamped down on metal theft, and we should follow their example.

Out of the scrap metal industrys 5bn turnover nationwide, an estimated 1bn is carried out in cash.

There seems to be plenty of local stealing-to-order with little disincentive to the thieves. Something must be done to curb the crime and take the cash out of scrap. With this in mind, I back the Metal Theft (Protection) Bill proposed by Graham Jones MP and welcomed the Governments plan to establish a 5m national taskforce to tackle metal theft.

Anyone with information about individuals engaged in metal theft or dealing in stolen metal should call Sussex Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.


Leo Hickish is Chairman of the Sussex branch of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).

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