The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was meant to solve the widespread problem of metal theft from buildings. For a while, it did. Now metal theft is massively on the increase again.
Metal thieves have caused misery to property owners whether it’s through stolen lead from roofs, stolen railway cable causing delays and cancellations, or stolen power cable causing widespread power loss.
According to reports, 2011 was the year new records were set for the level of thefts across all sectors, with the Home Office estimating the number of police-reported incidents as 100,000.
In response to what was seen to be a worsening problem, the Home Office set up a National Taskforce to work with other government departments and law enforcement agencies to determine what needed to be put in place to get control of the situation. Their findings led to the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 (SMDA), to replace both the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and the Motor Vehicles Crime Act 2001.
The new Act created a licensing regime for motor salvage operators and collectors of scrap metal by banning cash transactions and granting local police the authority to inspect merchant dealers’ premises.
In the first few years of its implementation, the Act was a huge success. Between 2013 and 2017 the police in England and Wales saw a year-on-year decline in the number of reported metal theft offences, from 62,997 in 2012/13, to 12,970 in the year ending March 2017.
However, the impact of the SMDA 2013 has waned whilst the value of the metals being stolen has increased significantly. The net result is metal theft incidences are again on the increase.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of general metal theft incidents between 2017-2018 as 16,552, an increase of 25% on the previous year’s figure. Nearly half of these metal theft offences (46%) were infrastructure-related, the most vulnerable to metal theft being railway networks, construction sites, abandoned houses and graveyards.
British Transport Police figures revealed an 85% increase in live cable thefts across the UK railway network between 2017 and 2018, with non-live cable theft also rising, growing from 172 in 2016-17 to 265 in 2017-18.
In 2019, Railway Technology reported that cable crime led to over 60,000 minutes of delays across the rail network, compared to roughly 38,000 in 2017-18.
Home Office for 2017/2018 shows the total number of metal thefts in Dorset increased by 287 per cent from 79 to 306, the highest increase across England and Wales.
With the threat of prosecution for committing metal theft offences now proving ineffective, the only course of action left open to property owners is private investment in tailored commercial security services to prevent the crimes from taking place in the first place.