Crime threat – metal theft

Posted on 9 Nov 2011 by Tim Brown

The increase in the value of metal and the ease with which ‘scrap’ can be disposed of has contributed greatly to the rise in metal theft. It is vital that businesses with even small amounts of metals review their security and storage arrangements.

Every UK manufacturer needs to understand the broad scope of areas that thieves are working in and the impact that metal theft can have on its own business – materials are being stolen in both their raw and scrap form, catalytic convertors are frequently disappearing from entire fleets of company vehicles and thefts of copper cable from companies such as BT and the Energy Networks have the knock on effect of threatening daily trading with the loss of telephone, broadband and power. Attacks on BT alone have risen by 12% in the last year and Network Rail are suffering even further with a 52% leap in a year, now making metal theft its largest crime problem.

British Transport Police state that metal theft is, after counter terrorism, their largest problem. Alchemy Metals recently met with BT, Network Rail, the Energy Network Association, British Transport Police and English Heritage to discuss the issue and how it is adversely affecting their businesses.

Luke Beeson, general manager, BT Security commented: “Theft of telecommunications cable is a significant issue causing widespread disruption for a number of our business customers. We are having to invest millions of pounds to combat it working in partnership with other affected industries and local and national law enforcement agencies.” Large amounts of metal stock costing tens of thousands of pounds are disappearing from factories overnight, the secure housing of scrap metal generated from the manufacturing process is critical – if there is a way to take materials in any form the criminals will do so, often leaving costly repairs in their wake.

Alchemy Metals, one of the largest non-ferrous merchants in the South East, manages the scrap metal waste of over 1,000 UK manufacturers and the theft of materials is a frequent problem for an increasing number of their clients.

Alchemy Metals’ managing director Philip Newman says, “We are working closely with our customers to advise on more robust ways to store and manage their metal holdings to reduce the opportunity for theft – implementing simple security measures such as the ‘SmartWater’ labeled containers that we provide can drastically reduce the scope for thieves.”

The enemy within
The threat to UK manufacturers is not just an external one – there are recorded incidents of company employees stealing both clean and scrap materials from their employers over extended periods of time, often fraudulently changing company documents. In addition unscrupulous merchants have been proven to manipulate their customers weights to their own advantage.

Those responsible for the thefts range from opportunistic petty criminals to highly organised gangs, they both have one thing in common and that is an easy outlet for the sale of stolen metal.

Call for legislative change
The current Scrap Metal Dealers Act is believed by many industries to be no longer fit for purpose – it only requires the dealer to record the vehicle license plate and name given by the seller with no further mandatory checks required.

Ironically a petty thief could potentially steal from a manufacturer and then sell the stolen materials to the same scrap metal merchant the manufacturer uses with no questions asked and receive cash in hand for their crime. The problem is made worse in that not all dealers are licensed and the police do not currently have powers to close down rogue scrap yards.

Police forces across the country are now being forced to tackle the rapid growth of metal theft but without robust changes to legislation their hands are tied.

The Government has recently acknowledged the ‘serious challenge’ from metal theft and the Prime Minister has confirmed that the Government is committed to dealing with the issue as a priority, as a result they are now reviewing the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

Key Government departments are looking at various ways to change the Act including the introduction of a compulsory audit trail process similar to that which Alchemy Metals have already implemented – any materials that are bought through the ‘gate’ for cash are purchased on an appointment only basis – the client is required to provide full proof of identity and then the client, their vehicle and the materials that are being sold are all photographed.

Details of every transaction are routinely provided to the Police.

Government officials are also discussing a ‘cashless’ model, this is more common in the USA and Europe and removes the attraction of a quick and untraceable cash transaction.

Legitimate scrap metal dealers should have nothing to fear from robust legislative changes. Only by closing down the means of disposal of stolen metal can the police have any real effect on metal theft – this can only be achieved by a reform of legislation governing the entire metal recycling trade thereby giving law abiding dealers an environment in which to trade fairly and equitably.