Sustained fall in metal theft shows new laws are working

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 brought in strict licensing requirements Picture: IAN BURT

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 brought in strict licensing requirements Picture: IAN BURT - Credit: Ian Burt

A decline in metal theft has been sustained across Suffolk over the course of a year – giving hope that efforts to eliminate the trade in stolen scrap are paying off.

A total of 182 metal thefts were recorded by Suffolk police between the end of March 2019 and the end of March 2020.

Figures for the previous year showed thefts fell to 181 in 2018/19 from 310 in 2017/18.

Police welcomed the first sustained fall since the years after the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act – but warned: “We can’t rest on our laurels.”

At its peak, metal theft cost the economy an estimated £220m a year – mainly affecting power, transport and communications sectors, but also having an impact on public buildings like churches.

The introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 – in response to an increase in theft between 2009 and 2011 – brought in strict licensing requirements on dealers and identity checks for people selling scrap metal.

Last year saw the second lowest number of thefts since the Act came into force – with a 7% fall in domestic metal theft (from 127 to 119), while infrastructure related theft of items like copper cabling went up 16% (from 54 to 63).

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But with rates partly dictated by commodity markets, police remain vigilant of a resurgence based on supply and demand.

Inspector Andy Martin said: “It’s encouraging that we’ve seen the Act achieving something – but it’s not just about legislation, it’s about enforcing the legislation.

“The Act makes enforcement easier and that’s always going to be welcomed, but metal theft has plagued us for years, so we can’t rest on our laurels.

“The figures would suggest that whatever activity we had taking place in the last year helped sustain levels. It’s down to a combination of things, including our work with partners, local authorities and dealers.

“It’s also about prevention as detection. Particularly vulnerable buildings like churches have done a lot of work around awareness and finding ways to adapt.”

“We wouldn’t want to take our foot off the pedal now. We’ll look at what we did last year and look to replicate that.

“The Act has clearly been of benefit, and the fact we’ve seen a sustained fall is a positive indicator, but we know from other legislation that it’s only when it’s tried, tested and appealed, that we fully understand the practicalities of implementing it.”