Metal theft costs the UK economy an estimated £770 million per year – almost £15 million per week. It’s a serious problem that isn’t going away.
The resale value of certain commonly used metals continues to make metal theft a highly prized activity for adventurous, risk-taking thieves, not only in the UK but right across Europe.
From office blocks to churches, construction sites to railways, warehouses to utility sites, they’re all high-risk targets that frequently suffer significant and costly damage as thieves go out of their way to steal metal to resell.
The value of scrap metal rises and falls with the economy, but copper wire & pipes, soldered copper (braziery) and brass all hold a relatively consistent high-value year on year.
Thieves will take pipes, cabling, cylinders, handles, taps, signs, roofing material, equipment, fittings, even bronze statues and church bells – in fact, anything they can get their hands on that can be sold on as scrap metal.
How widespread is the problem?
According to Europol, metal theft crosses all social, economic and cultural boundaries, affecting transport, energy, business and telecommunications sectors, causing devastating loss to industry and local businesses alike, and major disruption to essential public services.
In 2018 more than 350 tonnes of metal stolen from locations across Europe was seized. The metal itself was valued at almost a million Euros. The cost of replacement, damage repair and the impact on business would be many multiples of this.
Blackpool Council were forced to remove public artworks from display and replace them with replicas, when three of four lead-based figures were stolen from a park where they had stood since 1926.
“It’s devastating.” says Elaine Smith, Chairwoman of the Blackpool Civic Trust. “These statues are part of Blackpool’s heritage. To us they are priceless and these thieves will get a few pounds in cash for them.”
When the theft of a single section of copper cable was stolen from a railway line in West Yorkshire, the knock-on effect caused chaos for thousands of passengers. More than 100 trains were delayed for over 17 hours, with the cost of the damage to property in excess of £80,000.
And for what? At best, the stolen copper cabling would have been sold for around £50.
Who is being affected by metal theft?
Metal thieves tend to home in on the places where the opportunities are bountiful and security is low, so vacant properties and unguarded areas are at the top of the target list.
So great are the thrill and financial reward that neither the chance of being caught nor the likelihood of personal injury are sufficient deterrents to determined thieves. These are simply risks worth taking.
However, the lasting impact of metal theft is considerable and this is a crime which continues on a daily basis to cause serious loss and disruption to property owners, farmers, landowners and rural business owners alike.
According to James Kelly, CEO of the British Metals Recycling Association, the rise in incidence is due to two main factors, namely the price of metal and poor enforcement of regulations and the law.
What can you do to prevent it?
Thoroughly review your own sites and properties, and be pragmatic about the likely risks to illegal entry and the security measures you currently have in place to prevent them.
Basic measures, such as not leaving copper piping at building sites or unused/exposed copper cabling alongside railway lines, will help. Remove gaps in perimeter fences near property or railway lines and introduce controlled access for utility companies or trades people.
Effective security, both for short and long term protection of a property, is a wise investment when compared to the cost of replacing stolen metalwork, potential damage to property and business or service down-time.
Internally, for vacant or occupied buildings (out of hours), motion detection alarms and video verified alarms can be utilised.
Openings in vacant property can be secured with steel panels and keyless steel security doors.
Effective perimeter security comes in the form of concrete blocks and Heras Fencing, backed-up by 24/7 monitored CCTV or a video verified alarm system.
Security guards and/or dog patrols also provide highly effective physical and visual deterrents.