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Public Policy Exchange – Tackling Metal Crime

18 May - 09:30 - 13:00

The Association of Chief Police Officers estimates that metal crime costs the British economy around £350 million each year. Over the 12 month period leading up to March 2020 there were around 15,947 metal theft offences record by the police in England and Wales. This is a marked drop from the 62,075 cases recorded at the peak in 2013, but since 2016 the number of recorded incidents of metal theft seem to have plateaued and are now rising again. With the price of copper increasing by over 60% in the last eight months and the economic fallout of the pandemic starting to take hold, this issue is likely to resurface over the coming year.

The Home Office’s Operation Tornado, created as a nationwide initiative aiming to reduce metal crime, led to the creation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in 2013. The Act imposed stricter regulations governing the metal recycling sector, making it harder to dispose of stolen metal and reverse the upward trend in thefts. This was done in part by enacting license requirements for buyers, ID requirements for sellers and preventing the purchase of scrap metal for cash. In 2017, a Home Office review found that there was a 75% decrease in metal theft, and deemed the Act to be a “powerful weapon” against metal theft with robust measures in place that have successfully “deterred people from stealing metal or dealing with stolen scrap metal”.

However, metal crime is starting to rise again. Many critics explain this increase by showing that while the Act has helped to cut down on petty theft, it has done little to prevent severe crime. Metal theft is arguably now an organised crime, and is being done on a larger scale. According to the AA, incidences of catalytic converter thefts from cars is also rising sharply with thieves making away with key components in less than two minutes by using sophisticated tools.

Others also argue that as the incidence of metal crime has fallen since 2013, national attention has declined as well. According to the national lead for the British Transport Police, Superintendent Mark Cleland, gaps in metal theft intelligence are such that the police believe that official figures recording a 5% fall in metal theft from 2018 to 2019 do not show the reality of the crime. In the subsequent eight years, it is believed that expertise has dissipated and knowledge has disappeared leaving many police forces having to rebuild from scratch. A renewed effort to tackle is therefore needed and may be starting to emerge. In October 2020, police forces across the country worked with various partners including local councils and environment agencies in a nationwide effort to raise awareness of metal theft and focus on crime prevention, education and enforcement.

This timely symposium offers an invaluable opportunity for police, local authorities, the scrap metal industry, transport sector, telecommunications and other key stakeholders to examine the next steps for legislative change in tackling metal theft.


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