Latest figures show there were 40,680 metal thefts in England and Wales in 2013/14 – down from 59,788 in the previous 12 months.
The decline in metal thefts – which cost the economy around £770 million a year – follows the new Scrap Metal Dealers Act which came into force in October 2013 alongside a range of other measures to tackle the crime. Liberal Democrat MPs and Lib Dem ministers in Government called for these tough measures to become law, as did the Local Government Association.
Under the law, every scrap metal dealer had to obtain a licence from their local council to trade. Town halls have been able to refuse or revoke licences, have new powers of entry and inspection and the ability to shut down rogue dealers.
It is also now illegal for anyone to buy or sell scrap metal with cash while traders have to keep records of names and addresses of scrap metal suppliers. This is increasing traceability for all transactions and making it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen metal to scrapyards.
Councils across the country have been assisting the police to prosecute unlicensed traders and shut down scrap metal businesses that break the law.
Other figures include:
Infrastructure-related metal thefts – including from railway lines, church roofs and machinery – dropped by 41 per cent in the past year;
The number of metal theft offences recorded each month more than halved from 6,609 in April 2012 to under 3,000 in March 2014.
Frank Little, secretary of Neath Liberal Democrats, said: “When I was a councillor, I saw at first hand the danger caused to sheltered housing by the theft of gas pipework.
“The scourge of metal theft costs the country hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
“It sees trains disrupted, precious memorials desecrated, church and library roofs vandalised, children’s playground equipment targeted and road signs stolen.
“Such a significant drop in metal thefts is excellent news for communities who have suffered from the chaos, disruption and heartache caused by unscrupulous metal thieves.
“Lib Dems had been calling for years for new laws to help regulate the scrap metal industry in order to make it more difficult for thieves and it is great to see that we made this happen in Government.
“However, there is still much to do. The Local Government Association is urging the Government to continue investing in council and police efforts to co-ordinate enforcement action and gather intelligence to target and disrupt criminal networks and keep up the pressure on metal thieves. Local Liberal Democrats will be asking Neath Port Talbot county borough council what further work they are planning to do to enforce this law”.