Conditions Ripe for a Return to High Levels of Metal TheftConditions Ripe for a Return to High Levels of Metal Theft

This year, there is a shift in the outlook on metal thefts from those impacted– this ranges from historic churches that are targeted, energy and infrastructure companies, the police and the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), among others. Reasons behind this are varied and complex, but is the result of a set of conditions which makes metal thefts an attractive and viable option.

In response to this, a number key stakeholders that are affected by metal theft have created the Alliance for Combatting Metal Theft (ACMT) this year, highlighting the need to address metal theft and the reasons behind them, some of which are laid out below. 

The National Crime Agency’s National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2017 states that available data suggests there is a decline in metal thefts, although they mention that rising prices of lead and copper may increase the number of thefts. Copper prices back to August 2014 levels, lead prices have been increasing since 2015, and are now back at 2011 prices. This is concerning, as metal thefts were at their highest in 2012, and although prices are not at those levels yet, the trend is in that direction. 

(Pictured Left: 6ft tall, 25 stone peacock sculpture by Geoffrey Dashwood Stolen from a New Forest garden). 

The report appears to be contrary the experiences of those affected, for example The Churches Conservation Trust called 2017 the “Summer of Crime” as an increasing number of churches (often rural) have had their lead roofs stolen, along with other artefacts in some cases. The BMRA commented that they found the conclusions in the report ‘surprising’. It may be that the types of theft are more planned and greater amounts of lead and copper are stolen, for example, 8km of copper cable was stolen directly from the ground in the north of England and Scotland. In another example, a 6ft tall, 25 stone peacock sculpture by Geoffrey Dashwood, was stolen from a New Forest garden without any signs of disturbance, indicate a more professional job than just opportunistic thieves. 

(Pictured left: Lead theft at St John the Baptist, Parson Drove)

Due to the ongoing police budget cuts, there are scant resources for police to enforce the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (SMDA) which bans cash payments and requires identity checks, in the aim of reducing metal theft. There are reports of unscrupulous scrap metal dealers paying cash for scrap metal, allowing thieves an opportunity to profit from their crimes. The BMRA and other stakeholders have voiced their concerns to the Government who are reviewing the Act, in an effort to re-establish the proactive metal theft taskforce. The outcome will be reported upon later this year. Even if the task force is re-established, there is a gap that is being exploited all too easily by both theives and those prepared to take the risk in buying stolen metal. 

The impact on communities locally and nationally cannot be understated: either through transport disruption to the loss of irreplaceable works of art and national treasures being damaged. However, if stolen metals could be traced through the system, regardless of if the scrap metal dealers follow the SMDA legislation, this would identify them as handling stolen goods allowing prosecution.

The low cost of implementing Trace-In-Metal, which indelibly marks both lead and copper, allows communities some peace of mind by making metals less attractive to theft, and if the worst happens being able to trace stolen metals even after smelting. 

Trace-in-Metal provides a unique solution to metal theft, in that it targets the recievers of stolen metal, given that the forensic markers withstand the temperatures used in metals' recycling and therefore provide tracability throughout the metals' recycling 'food-chain', and this is a step change.