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Metal Theft: A Growing Threat Amid Inflation and Material Scarcity

Updated: Apr 19

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013 was initially effective in curbing metal theft, but the trade has experienced a resurgence. Metal theft is now a significant problem, with a rising number of offences recorded, and it is expected to worsen due to inflation, material scarcity, and increased criminal activity resulting from the cost of living crisis.

 
metal items

Metal theft - How bad is the problem?


The Scrap Metal Dealers Act of 2013 was introduced to combat the growing trade in metal theft. Initially successful in cracking down on this insidious activity, the trade has since experienced a renaissance.


Metal theft is rapidly becoming a major issue. 19,000 metal theft offences were recorded in 2021, up from 17,400 the year before and the highest number since 2014-15, according to information released by the ONS.


The problem is only set to get worse due to rampant inflation, material scarcity and the increase in criminality resulting from the cost of living crisis.


The data suggests that the increase in metal theft offences may be due to a number of factors, including an increase in demand for recyclable metals the result of supply chain disruption post pandemic, as well as thieves targeting the increasing number of void commercial premises because they know there is more likely to be valuable items, such as copper wire or aluminium frames on site.


Graphic showing metal theft recorded by police in England and Wales from 2012/13 to 2020/2021
Metal theft offences recorded from 2012/13 to 2020/2021. Credit: Statista

Metal theft is not restricted to empty commercial property, Churches have also been badly hit. Metal thieves caused £2million in damage to Churches in 2021, a figure set to rise even further by the end of 2022!


What metals are most stolen?


Scrap metal is valuable, with copper, lead, aluminium, brass, and bronze the preferred targets for thieves. Copper is the most vulnerable metal due to growing international demand. In the UK the theft of metal has reached an all-time high!


Criminals incentivised by international demand, have committed some truly audacious crimes, some of which are listed below:

2022:

  • Significant rail disruption on the Midland Mainline following theft of copper cabling

  • £60,000 worth of copper stolen from Openreach broadband boxes

  • 4000m of copper telecoms and broadband cable ripped out of the ground in Nottinghamshire

  • 5km of copper cabling stolen across Wrexham

  • 8000 businesses lose internet connection following theft of copper cabling

  • £250,000 worth of damage following lead theft from military cemetery

  • Large scale copper theft from Swindon retail park

  • 342 iron drain covers stolen from Walsall


The figures above provide a snapshot of an increasingly prevalent problem. Thieves are also targeting void properties due to the percieved lack of risk and the ease with which they are able to remove metals without fear of detection.


Types of metal items commonly stolen from commercial premises include:


Copper pipes

Wiring, power cables and transformers

Lead roofs

Bronze / brass monuments and plaques

Drain covers

Metal window-frames


What can landlords and property owners do to protect themselves from metal theft?


Property owners have a number of options to protect themselves from metal theft, including the 9 steps detailed below!


1. Assess current security measures:


Does your intruder alarm and CCTV system function properly, provide adequate coverage and detection capability?


2. Is your site suitably illuminated?


Void properties are commonly de-energised, however, there is a growing range of solar powered security lights available from the UK manufacturer Knightsearcher. Motion activated lights are a great deterrent.


3. Secure your property through the adoption of site hardening measures.


Deterrence is always the preferred option when protecting void property. Make it hard for them and they will move on! Steel window screens, metal doors and anti-climb measures all aid in deterring opportunist criminals.


4. Focus on removing areas of concealment across your property.


Control vegetation and promote natural surveillance from neighbouring properties. Nosy neighbours are one of the most effective security tools in your arsenal!


5. Prevent vehicles from getting close to your property.


Anti-vehicle measures will make thieves think twice, (carrying heavy metal across a site is a great disincentive). Concrete blocks are perhaps the cheapest and most effective anti-vehicle control available.


6. Prevent thieves gaining access to roof areas


Prevent thieves gaining access to roof areas (where the lead is), by securing external fire escapes with metal cages, installing anti-climb rollers on flat roofs and covers on drain pipes.


Make it difficult for adversaries to climb drainpipes and guttering by applying anti-climb paint. This stuff is horrible, it sticks to everything. Ensure that if using ACP (Anti-Climb Paint) you install mandatory warning signs.


7. Install video verification sensors


Install video verification sensors to monitor vulnerable areas (roof tops, access points, perimeter and internal areas).


Surveillance technology without assessment (monitored by trained operatives), is pretty pointless, I therefore recommend that you ensure your property is monitored remotely 24/7 either by an ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre), or better still by a security company with a network of response vehicles.


8. Prioritise property upkeep!


Property upkeep is a repeat theme across many of my articles. Thieves, squatters and vandals target abandoned properties. Property maintenance sends out an incredibly strong psychological message - THIS PROPERTY IS CARED FOR AND PROTECTED!


Read this article if you would like to learn more: Fixing Broken Windows - The Importance of Property Upkeep as The First Line of Defence


9. Property marking by SelectDNA or Smartwater deters criminals.


SmartWater is used by 95% of UK police forces to deter criminals. Evidence, based on police statistics, shows that criminals fear SmartWater. In fact, the use of SmartWater has led to reductions in burglary of up to 84% in some areas (Portsmouth City Council).


Conclusion:


The cost of living crisis will lead to an increase in criminals targeting property, either in the form of squatter occupation, vandalism or material theft. By implementing a few simple yet proven security measures, you can effectively protect your property and in doing so save a small fortune in the long term (much cheaper than replacing a lead roof, ripped out copper cabling, or refurbishing a property once squatters have left)!


Propertysec are experts in the protection of property. Navigate to www.propertysec.co.uk for more information on our range of services / products, or a no obligation vulnerability assessment.



 

About the Author: Justin Quigley, is a recognised security expert in the protection of property through the introduction and deployment of technical and non-technical security measures, including CCTV towers, video verification systems, fencing, perimeter protection technology, hostile vehicle barriers, alarms and analytical camera systems. He is a prolific writer on the subject of crime prevention, security technology and void property security.



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