Metal theft is estimated to cost the economy £770 million each year. Thieves have been known to target railway lines, schools, hospitals, man-hole covers, plaques in cemeteries and even commemorative statues.
A recent example of this is the theft of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture that was insured for £500,000. The bronze statue called Two Forms was stolen overnight from Dulwich Park in South London in December 2011.
The price it could fetch as scrap metal would only be a fraction of its value. Southwark Council is offering a reward for the thieves’ arrest and conviction.
Operation Tornado was launched on 6th January 2012. It’s a trial scheme that has been put in place involving metal recyclers throughout the North East of England. It will run for six months and requires anyone selling scrap metal to obtain photographic proof of identity.
It is hoped that the operation will impact on the ability of the criminals to convert stolen metal into cash thereby reducing crime.
Last year was supposedly the worst on record for metal thefts from churches according to recent insurance figures. Many churches are located in isolated locations with minimal CCTV or security precautions that make them easy targets for criminals.
In February 2011 thieves stripped a section of lead roof from St Nicholas Church, Wrentham, which cost £38,000 to replace. The lead weighed approximately six tons. The Church has since fitted a security alarm system at a further cost.
English Heritage’s Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (Arch) aims to identify and protect historic assets by working with communities.
The metals most commonly stolen are lead, copper, aluminium, brass and bronze.
Currently when selling scrap metal there is a ‘no questions’ asked policy in place by the scrap yards, therefore anyone can scrap metal for cash. Because this is purely a cash based business there is no way to trace the thieves.
Ministers have met to discuss the potential of making cash transactions at scrap yards illegal to prevent future thieves from making a financial gain from stolen metal. There is also further talk of the Government regulating this industry to clear up crime.
The 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act is due to be reviewed as many have said the law is ‘past its sell by date’.
A change in the law could mean that anyone that sells scrap metal would be required to register as a seller and provide proof of identity at point of sale.