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article imagePrice of copper leads to surge in British rail thefts

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 3, 2012 in Crime
London - Global metal prices are resulting in a rash of stolen property, with Britain’s railway system being hit particularly hard, suffering losses of more than $20 million during the last three years and railway metal thefts up 70 percent from year-ago levels.
British Transport Police (BTP) are on record noting more than 6,000 thefts took place from April 2008 through October 2011. Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther has called on metal scrap dealers to challenge those selling scrap metal their way.
Crowther, also head of the Association of Chief Police Officers metal theft working group, said, “We are continuing to work with police forces across the country to tackle metal thieves, but this is a crime driven by market forces and the outlet for stolen metal is through scrap metal dealers,” BBC reports.
Crowther noted BTP had arrested more than 1,000 individuals in 2010 who were connected to cable thefts. “Our biggest challenge is that criminals can turn up at scrap yards with copper cables and walk away with thousands of pounds in cash, with scrap yards either turning a blind eye to their criminality or taking metal with no questions asked,” he added.
The rail network has taken one of the hardest hits in the current stealing spree, averaging six to eight attacks per day, resulting in train delays in 2010 in excess of 6,000 hours.
The largest single theft occurred last July at Loxdale Street, Bilston, in the West Midlands, when thieves helped themselves to 450 feet of fiber optic cable and 28 miles of earth bonding cable, each valued at more than $450,000. Two men have been charged over the thefts.
BTP notes the metal thefts can be a danger in other ways. Ten thieves lost their lives in the past year, mostly due to electrocution.
Those suffering most from the metal theft are calling for legal reform restricting dealers from conducting cash transactions, thereby producing an audit trail, and a requirement that sellers provide proper identity.
Britain’s government is considering such a move. Oliver Eden, a Home Office minister, recently told the BBC “a law dating back to the 1960s is not sufficient to deal with an organized crime,” according to the Washington Post.
Part of the problem, according to the British Metal Recycling Association, a scrap yards trade group, is the proliferation of illegal recycling sites, which notes there about 800.
Copper prices have more than doubled during the last three years, thanks to industrial growth in China and India. “When the price of copper goes up, we all groan,” said Kate Snowden, spokeswoman for Network Rail, primary owner of British rail tracks, the Washington Post reports.
The thieves, however, aren’t limiting their activities to the rails. Public art, manhole covers, doorknobs, phone cables, musical instruments and children’s swings are all targets.
In December, thieves stole a 7-foot-tall bronze sculpture from a south London park. The piece, “Two Forms (Divided Circle),” by Barbara Hepworth, a well-known British sculptor, is believed to have been sold as scrap, melted down for cash.
The bronze sculpture, insured at nearly $800,000, was stolen the very same day London’s Metropolitan Police introduced a specialist squad to deal with the growing problem.
The economic cost in dealing with the surging thefts was estimated at more than $1 billion in 2011.
Rail officials have already warned the thefts could lead to massive transport delays during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
More about price of copper, railway system, 2012 summer olympics, metal thieves, Scrap metal
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