Tough metal theft laws edge closer

Moves to tackle the growing problem of metal theft, ranging from war memorials to railway cable, will come a step nearer with the latest stage of tougher legislation.

Conservative MP Richard Ottaway is promoting a Bill which would make it easier to close unlicensed scrap metal yards and ban cash transactions.

The MP, whose Bill will receive its second reading, said police needed new powers to tackle rogue dealers. Police are dealing with a massive rise in metal theft, which now accounts for 10% of all crime in some areas.

Historic buildings, churches and memorials have been targeted by thieves, while train services across the country have been disrupted by cable theft. British Transport Police estimated that a record number of people - more than 12 - were killed last year in metal theft-related incidents, such as being electrocuted while stealing railway cable.

Deputy chief constable Paul Crowther said a task force set up to tackle the problem had made 400 arrests and seized 200 vehicles in the past year. He highlighted some of the problems to crack down on the thefts, including stolen metal being sold for cash, sometimes within an hour of being taken, to yards which were not licensed.

"We cannot take any closure action against those operating outside the law, so it is imperative that new legislation is introduced to give police officers the necessary tools to tackle rogue dealers," he said.

Home Office minister Lord Henley backed the Bill, which would replace the "outdated" 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

He said metal theft was having a "major" impact on communities, leading to hospital operations being cancelled, communications affected and rail services disrupted. "We do have a serious problem," he said, warning it was possible that thieves will try to take stolen metal abroad as a result of the crackdown.

Mr Ottaway said he had received cross-party support for the Bill, which he hopes will become law next spring.

He said: "Metal theft is a distressing and destructive problem that affects individuals, communities and businesses across the country. Aside from the carnage caused by thieves targeting our transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructure, we are too often seeing the desecration of our churches, war memorials and crematoriums."