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Warning on metal theft

As the price of copper has risen by over 50pc in little more than year, it’s feared that metal and cable theft will rise too.

When the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SMDA) became law in the UK four years ago, that included a ban on cash payments for scrap metal, identity checking and licensing, to restrict the stolen metals market. The next couple of years saw falls in reported thefts, although the drop in commodity prices also played their part.

Peter Lalor, Managing Director of the contractor VPS Site-Security, says: “We’re seeing a combination of factors coming together that could easily foster a rise in metal theft. Not only have metals like copper and nickel started to rise in value again, but all the enforcement agencies work and regulation checks are falling away at the same time.”

VPS has found that many of the licenses issued to scrap metal merchants – which is a legal requirement – have expired and not been renewed, even though many of them still appear to be operating. Some local authorities, like Hackney, also in London, have no licenses on the Environment Agency’s register at all, despite scrap metal merchants operating there.

Peter Lalor adds: “When metal theft was at its peak, and the SMDA came into force, many police forces had metal theft task forces actively checking local dealers were licensed and keeping money transactions on paper. Now, you would be hard pushed to find an active task force tackling the issue.”

This week, the British Metals Recycling Association echoed similar concerns, citing enforcement funding had been cut to the point where there is now no metal theft task force, few dedicated police officers and no appetite for going after yards openly paying cash for scrap metal. And a recent study by VPS Site Security suggested that cable theft from railways is still occurring five times a week.


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