More than 900kg of stolen metal has been seized by British Transport Police in south Cheshire following a day of action last Friday.
Officers from BTP visited scrap metal recyclers in Sandbach, Crewe and Nantwich and recovered the metal, believed to be from the overhead lines of the railway.
The dealer, it seems, had done everything possible to determine if the metal was stolen when it was brought into the yard, but an investigation is now underway to identify and locate those responsible for stealing the railway property.
Detective Inspector Andrea Rainey said:
“We are grateful to all the scrap recyclers we visited who co-operated fully with our activity.
“We will now be working to trace those responsible for the thefts and will liaise closely with Network Rail and the recycler to determine where the metal has come from.
“It is incredible to think that, despite the repeated warnings with regard to the risks to health and limited rewards, criminals are still willing to target the railway and other sources of metal.
“The simple truth is that cable thieves do not make huge amounts of money from the metal they are able to steal. In fact, when you consider the risks thieves take to steal the cable, it simply isn’t worth the effort.
“Anyone who seeks to steal railway cable risks serious injury – or even death – through electrocution and, because of where the cable is situated, faces the prospect of being struck by a train.
“Whilst thieves may think they will get good money for stolen metal because of the increased price of copper, the truth is that unscrupulous scrap metal dealers will not pass on that increase to the thieves.
“Historically thieves will only get a fraction of the value of the metal they take whilst it is the few recyclers prepared to ignore the law who reap the benefits when they sell the metal on.
“Thankfully, the number of metal recyclers willing to take in dodgy metal is small – with the vast majority of businesses in the industry happy to work with police to put an end to the trade in stolen metal.
“Those who continue to buy and sell stolen metal are on our radar and they can look forward to many future visits from British Transport Police and our colleagues in other police forces.”
British Transport Police has a long history of working closely with the British Metal Recycling Authority to educate scrap metal recyclers about what to look out for when people bring various metals and cables into yards to sell.
A lot of work is also being done to strengthen security at recycling yards which are also often the target of thieves.
Ian Hetherington, director general at the BMRA, said:
“Metals theft is a real problem for the metals industry. To combat this we are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and industries, including telecommunications, railways, utilities and construction that use products containing valuable metals.
“Whilst metal theft is highly localised and can have a major impact on local communities, the disposal of stolen metal is a national problem.
“BMRA supports a nationally coordinated approach from the police and the Environment Agency and wants to see stronger sentencing and appropriate penalties for those stealing metal and those non-compliant or illegal operators setting out to dispose of it.
“It is important to remind homeowners and businesses, including metals recyclers, who regularly suffer attacks from criminals, to seek rapid police response. Experience shows that robust policing and attention to security procedures are important deterrents to thieves.”
But there is more to be done and BTP, together with a number of other organisations, including Network Rail, is seeking to bring relevant legislation (Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964) up to date.
Dyan Crowther, Director of Operational Services at Network Rail, said:
“Our industry is under attack from metal thieves. Every day hundreds of passengers and essential freight deliveries are being disrupted and delayed.
“We are doing all we can to protect the network; including funding extra BTP officers, using CCTV, forensic marking techniques and other technology. Despite that crimes continue to increase.
“We believe that the only way to significantly reduce metal crime is to take away the illegal market and that more robust legislation and police powers are needed to achieve that.”
Thieves are also being warned that they will not escape the attention of BTP and other police forces.
Chief Inspector Chris Brierley of Cheshire Police said:
“Metal theft is a continuing issue for Cheshire. Thieves are taking lead flashing from roofs, copper piping from derelict houses and commercial premises and grid covers from the road side.
“Alongside operations carried out by British Transport Police we have been targeting scrap metal dealers with test sales at their premises and educating them to tackle the issue.”
Chief Insp Brierley added: “We are always proactively using our resources and technology to arrest criminals involved in the illicit trade of metals. Metal theft in any form is a direct attack on our communities, and can cause significant disruption to our lives and also in some cases significant danger.
“Especially when electricity cables, road signs, grid covers and rail communication equipment are stolen.
“The aim of these ongoing operations by local officers and BTP officers is quite simply to make our communities safer by targeting those who seek to harm or exploit them.”