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Expert blames shifting crime priorities for resurgence in metal theft

PUBLISHED: 16:27 19 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 19 March 2019

Robin Edwards, former deputy lead for the National Metal Theft Taskforce, blamed the rise in thefts on lack of enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013  Picture: ROBIN EDWARDS

Robin Edwards, former deputy lead for the National Metal Theft Taskforce, blamed the rise in thefts on lack of enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 Picture: ROBIN EDWARDS

Robin Edwards

A former police chief inspector, who spearheaded a national crime crackdown, has blamed rising levels of metal theft on changing enforcement priorities.

Suffolk police recorded 503 non-infrastructure related metal thefts in the two years to March 2018 - more than the previous four years combined  Picture: IAN BURTSuffolk police recorded 503 non-infrastructure related metal thefts in the two years to March 2018 - more than the previous four years combined Picture: IAN BURT

Robin Edwards’ work on British Transport Police campaign, Operation Tornado, led to requirements on scrap dealers to request and retain identification for cash sales.

Now a security consultant, he warned a recent rise in thefts was down to limited enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.

Declining levels of metal theft were reversed by a 53% rise across Suffolk in 2016/17 and another 7% rise in the following 12 months.

Total offences halved in the three years after the act, but theft of items like gates and fencing, often picked up by mobile collectors, have climbed higher than when rules were tightened.

Metal theft has gone up by two thirds in the last two years across Suffolk following falls since the introduction of new laws  Picture: ARCHANTMetal theft has gone up by two thirds in the last two years across Suffolk following falls since the introduction of new laws Picture: ARCHANT

Infrastructure theft from public buildings, railways and services remain lower (by 73% since 2013) but rose from 36 to 58 last year.

Mr Edwards said: “We’re now in a position where it’s no longer a priority, and the reality is, they’re struggling to meet the priorities they do have.

“The only way to prevent it from rising to similar levels is to enforce the act, but resource demand is significant.

“Many dealers haven’t bothered re-licensing because nobody’s checking.

“They had been encouraged to improve traceability, but that’s only on the basis it’s enforceable.

“The act made a massive difference, but it’s only sustainable if enforceable.

“It seems responsibility now lies entirely with the asset owners.

“In the face on an increase in violent crime, it’s unlikely available resources are going to be available to tackle the problem.

“The problem needs an approach that can’t necessarily rely on police forces.

“With very little effort, the problem could be reduced. We know this works, as it was an approach that worked previously.”

Inspector Nick Stonehouse, Suffolk’s head of rural policing, said: “Reducing metal theft, and catching those responsible for it, is one of the rural crime team’s priorities.

“We take part in regular days of action at scrap metal dealers, which involves visiting premises and inspecting their records.

“If we believe they are not conforming to the legislation then appropriate measures will be taken against them.”

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