Metal theft

Metal theft affects everyone. Whether it’s a community facing a large repair bill after lead is stolen from their church roof, power outages from copper being stolen from substations or rail passengers and train operating companies dealing with costly delays after cable has been stolen from the railway – everyone will have been affected by this crime whether they know it or not.

British Transport Police (BTP) and cable theft

Chief Constable Paul Crowther has been the national policing lead for tackling metal theft since 2012. The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows a national decrease in metal theft offences of around a third (35%) in 2014/15 compared with 2013/14.

However, criminals continue to target the railway and other parts of our communities, including protected historic buildings like churches, to steal metal and trade it in for their own gain.

In August 2016, Chief Constable Crowther became the national policing lead for tackling heritage and cultural property crime as well, providing an opportunity to bring the experience and best practice from the metal theft portfolio to the fight against heritage and cultural property crime and replicate some of the successes we have seen in reducing metal theft.

Cable and metal theft has a serious impact on the smooth running of the rail network. Thieves risk not only a prison sentence but also their lives attempting to steal cable and precious metals from the railway. When thieves target protected buildings like churches, their actions have a devastating impact on communities and can lead to a total and irreversible loss of our magnificent cultural heritage.

How we combat cable and metal theft

In recent years, we’ve seized thousands of pounds worth of stolen cable.

We work with Network Rail, local police forces, other enforcement agencies and the legitimate metals recycling trade to tackle metal theft through enforcement, education and deterrence.

  • We support the Scrap Metal Dealer’s Act 2013, which came into force on 1 October 2013. Under the new law scrap dealers have to obtain a full license, carefully record each sale of metal to deter a ‘no questions asked’ culture, and refrain from making cash payments in exchange for scrap metal.    
  • We have helped to train Network Rail staff to equip them with basic skills in preserving evidence at theft scenes.
  • We work with the British Metals Recycling Association to educate scrap metal dealers about metal theft – highlighting what to look out for when metal and cable is brought into yards.

Recent successes

  • In July 2016, two men who conspired to steal large quantities of railway cable were handed suspended prison sentences. The pair – a railway construction manager and the owner of a scrap metal dealership – stole almost 8.5 tonnes of cable in three months, which was sold on for thousands of pounds. Their conviction followed a three-month investigation by British Transport Police, initiated after suspicions were raised when one of the men received a fixed penalty notice for driving a truck with an overweight load.

How you can help

You can help protect your community from the effects of cable and metal theft.

If you have information about cable theft on the railway please let us know.

Call 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016.

Alternatively, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

To report cash payments by a scrap metal dealer, you can use BMRA’s Cashstoppers service to make an online report.