Metal thefts are costing the UK about £770 million a year. For British Transport Police, tackling this crime is their second most important priority after terrorism.
The theft of copper, essential to our railway network, telephone and internet access, plumbing and electricity, is not a victimless crime. Apart from damaging businesses, and causing delay to the delivery of essential supplies, these crimes cause major chaos for those who use these services for work and leisure.
In Wales alone railway cable thefts result in over £1million worth of damage every year and are the cause of over 600 hours of delays.
Copper thefts have also put people and property in physical danger, for example from gas leaks when copper pipe is tampered with. Thieves also put themselves at risk of personal injury, particularly electrocution which results in disfigurement, disability and death.
The Serious Organised Crime Agency is now working with British Transport Police and other bodies to set up a dedicated task force with increased patrols. New high-tech methods of marking copper cable with forensic coding are leading the way to detect and apprehend criminals.
The Welsh Utilities Pan Wales Metal Theft group was set up in September 2010 and shares intelligence and trends in relation to thefts. In March 2011 ten people were arrested on suspicion of stealing railway cable and metal in the Newport area, identified as a ‘hot spot’ for metal thefts in Wales.
Copper Crime 150 years ago
[Section being edited, 14/9/11, Story from the Cambrian]