Getting to grips with metal theft
Metal theft can have a serious impact on communities and continues to grab the headlines but it’s also been grabbing the attention of Government recently.
Teams of BT engineers have been praised recently for their efforts in swiftly repairing malicious damage to an underwater fibre optic cable serving the North West Scottish Highlands. The problem occurred as a result of a bungled attempt by thieves to steal what they thought might be a copper cable.
The attack on the cable running across Loch Carron caused service disruption to thousands of customers across multiple Highland communities and was classified as a serious incident by the Scottish Government.
Coincidentally on the same day the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, joined officers from British Transport Police, Lothian Borders Police and Crimestoppers to launch the ‘Cut out Metal Theft’ campaign.
The campaign, developed in-house by British Transport Police and Crimetoppers in conjunction with other partners including Openreach, encourages the public to report metal theft. It features radio-ads running throughout June, and a distinct identifiable image to be used on posters, leaflets and postcards.
The Scottish Government has also announced that hundreds more metal dealers are to be regulated under new measures designed to clamp down on metal thieves.
Dealers with an annual turnover of £1m or less will now need to be licensed. The move raises the exemption limit from its current level of £100,000.
In England and Wales, the Government included some clauses in the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act passed in April, which included a requirement for scrap metal dealers to cease trading in cash. It also significantly raised fines for offences under the current 48 year old Scrap Metal Dealers Act. The Director of Public Prosecutions also recently issued new guidelines to the courts to get tougher with metal thieves.
Introducing new legislation
While these measures will help to make it harder for criminals to gain cash for stolen metal, and will deter unscrupulous scrap metal dealers from turning a blind eye to where metal offered for sale has come from, on their own they will have a limited effect. That has been the advice offered to Government by members of the cross industry campaign against metal theft of which we are a leading voice.
The Home Office, which is the Government Department responsible for this issue, has been seeking a way forward to address the shortfalls in the current Scrap Metal Dealers Act but has faced the challenge of finding time in a crowded Parliamentary timetable. The current proposal is the introduction of a private members’ bill, which will reform the current Act.
Richard Ottaway, Conservative MP for Croydon South, agreed to sponsor this. Addressing the Licensing Scrap Metal Dealers conference at Local Government House on Friday 15 June, Mr Ottaway explained how he hoped tougher applications to get a dealer’s licence, greater powers for police and local authorities to suspend and revoke licences of illegal operations, and a single national register of licensed dealers, would help clean up the industry.
Reducing the impact on our customers
We’ve welcomed the introduction of this new bill, but in the meantime we’ll continue to do all we can to reduce the number of attacks on our network and mitigate the impact on our customers. One development we’ve introduced recently is a new network ‘burglar alarm’ called RABIT (Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker) – and it’s already having a positive impact.
RABIT launched at the end of March and covers the whole of the UK. It can instantly detect illegal tampering anywhere on our network and send an alert with precise location details to the police. This means police can get to the scene of incidents much more quickly and is enabling arrests to be made. Since its introduction, average monthly arrest figures are up 58% compared to last year .
More convictions for cable thieves
We’re pleased to note that convictions for cable thieves are resulting in more custodial sentences being handed down by the courts. In a recent case heard at Southwark Crown Court in London, a gang of criminals that had been stealing BT cable over a period of many months received sentences totalling 21.5 years.
We won’t rest until cable theft is a thing of the past and no longer poses a threat to the livelihood and wellbeing of our customers. While that may still be some way off, the concerted actions being taken by us, our industry partners and Government, mean that the momentum towards it has increased significantly.
Please remember we still need your help to stamp out the problem. If you see anything suspicious call the police straightaway, and if you know something about people involved in cable theft call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. They offer a reward of up to £1,000 for information that leads to a conviction.
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