Metal theft up as much as 200%; Neighbourhood Watch calls for a change

Neighbourhood watch
Neighbourhood watch

The Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network for England & Wales is supporting a national campaign to change the laws which relate to the sale of scrap metal, by urging their members to sign up to an e-petition which can be found at

Metal theft is the fastest growing area of criminal activity after cybercrime, with some police force areas reporting a 200% increase in the past year.  Like many crimes, the theft of metal produces a very low return when compared to the financial and emotional impact on the community.  The lead from a church roof may yield a few hundred pounds, a paltry sum, when compared with the £40,000 it costs to replace the roof, with many churches being forced to close permanently as they have been unable to fund the cost of repairs.

Heartless criminals have stolen brass plaques from gravestones and war memorials and sold them to scrap metal dealers who have asked no questions.

The theft of BT cables has meant that emergency care lines to the vulnerable in residential care homes are not available to those who need it most.  Lines have been cut to emergency services control rooms, rendering the 999 system inoperable for long periods, putting people’s lives at risk with repairs complex and expensive.

Many people’s journeys to work have been halted because thieves have stolen small amounts of signalling cable and holiday makers and business people alike have missed flights from airports for the same reason.  The disruption costs run into millions of lost man hours.

In Yorkshire a thief stole an earthing strip from an electrical sub-station, which in turn led to a power surge in nearby cottages, and the chain of events resulted in an explosion that demolished four homes.  Fortunately no one was hurt, let alone killed.

It seems nothing is sacrosanct anymore.  Patient trollies have been stolen from ambulances, London has lost hundreds of bus stops and bus shelters, manhole covers have disappeared, bicycles are disappearing for their scrap value and more than a million shopping trollies have been stolen.

Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch members are being urged to do what they can to prevent these crimes escalating further.  Increased vigilance in their street or village may produce valuable information for the police.  Residents in the vicinity of scrap metal dealers are asked to report unusual behaviour.  Details of vehicles collecting scrap metal in the street should be reported and the presumption that just because the workers are wearing high visibility jackets and a van parked close by, does not necessary mean they should be there.

The chair of the NHWN, Jim Maddan, stated:

‘If we can make the criminals realise that there is nowhere to dispose of the proceeds of their crimes, by making scrap metal dealers more accountable for their actions, so much the better. For too long, dodgy scrap metal dealers have been running a cash only business with no records of transactions.  All we are asking for is for a move to a cashless business model. This with proper record keeping combined with additional powers for the police and local authorities, accompanied by powers of closure granted to a police Superintendent, to be endorsed by magistrates’ courts, giving powers of permanent closure and seizure of assets. The existing legislation is nearly fifty years old and out of date.’

About the Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network (England and Wales)
Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch is the largest voluntary organisation in the UK with approximately 7.9 million members across England and Wales covering 170,000 schemes.

The Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network (NHWN) is the official national organisation who represents the movement as a whole and is recognised and supported by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch members believe that everyone has a right to feel safe where they live. We promote that right by building strong, friendly, active communities where crime and anti-social behaviour are less likely to happen.

Our schemes activities are characterised by their diversity, taking in everything from home security improvements to youth workshops to neighbourhood clean-up projects. Through our website and our links with the police, we give like-minded local people the resources they need to contact each other, share information and increase safety and social cohesion. In short, we help neighbours help each other.


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