Scrap deals law takes the shine off metal for thieves
Last month, I visited St James Church in Taunton which has had lead stolen from its roof and even had the lightning conductor removed. Because of the theft, rain water seeped into the building and added further to the thousands of pounds worth of damage.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual story.
As the Minister for Crime Prevention in the Home Office, dealing with the theft of metal is my responsibility. It is an issue which has an immense impact on our communities.
While it is difficult to know the exact cost of metal theft, there are roughly 1,000 of these offences a week, which costs the country at least £220 million each year.
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These include thefts the public may have heard about in their local community or reported in the national media: thefts from war memorials or churches; and cables from railways being stolen, which causes massive delays to trains.
In the Bristol area alone, there were nine train-affecting incidents in the last 12 months, which accounted for more than 10,000 minutes of delay – equivalent to longer than a week.
There are also thefts which attract little publicity, but the impact of them is just as bad. BT cables are being stolen causing massive disruption to telephone, television and internet access. Electricity and energy companies have cables taken which can cause disruption to their services. If you live in a rural community or are housebound, these disruptions can be devastating.
Most reprehensible of all, there have been incidents of plaques and memorials being stolen from crematoriums. The value of that amount of metal is relatively small but the impact and emotional toll on the families is infinitely greater.
The Government has recognised the damage that metal theft is causing across Britain and we are working on a range of ways to try and tackle it.
On December 3, new measures will take effect which will ban all scrap metal dealers from trading in cash, removing the "no questions asked" cash payments which have helped metal thieves and rogue dealers to operate freely. They will also increase fines and give the police new powers of entry to tackle illegal trading in metal yards.
But new laws must be supported by effective enforcement, so I welcome the success of the Police and British Transport Police on clamping down on these unscrupulous thieves. Through the work of the National Metal Theft Taskforce and the partnership work of Operation Tornado we are now seeing significant reductions in these crimes.
The Government has also committed £5 million to a dedicated metal theft taskforce at the same time as levelling the playing field to help the reputable scrap metal dealers who abide by the law.
And we know even more needs to be done. That is why we are also supporting the new Scrap Metal Dealers Bill which will deliver an even stronger and more effective licensing regime for the scrap metal industry.
The Bill will build on the action we are already taking and will provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to bring even more offenders to justice.
Metal theft has provoked anger and anguish in people across the South West and nationwide. It is a selfish and often heartless crime.
It will not be eliminated overnight, but the unprecedented new approach being taken by the Government will severely hamper scrap metal thieves. They have caused great misery but anyone tempted to try this crime from now on will find it has got a lot harder.
By Jeremy Browne, Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane.