EXCLUSIVE: Twelve months after the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, the taskforce to fight metal theft has been stripped to the bare bones, MRW understands.
One industry source said that resources specifically dedicated to fighting metal theft was just four ‘regional co-ordinators’ operating in London, Wales, and East and West Midlands since funding ran out in September.
MRW understands that these officers are limited in what they can do, especially in terms of working with forces in different regions. In effect, the source said, officers can ask only for support from other forces, and such requests may well be turned down on grounds of cost.
Although it was always known that National Metal Theft Taskforce would have a limited life, the current arrangement contrasts with an observation on 4 September from Detective Chief Inspector Alison Evans, of the British Transport Police, who led the taskforce. She told MRW at the time: “Although funding for the taskforce will end in October, many forces will retain dedicated metal theft teams.”
However, Ian Hetherington, director-general of the British Metal Recyclers Association (BMRA), described the current capabilities of the taskforce as a “skeleton operation”.
He said: “It’s a much cut down version of what it was and there is no separate budget for operating the taskforce. It will be very much a shadow on what it was previously.”
Although Hetherington said the BMRA was not immediately worried about the scrap metal sector returning to previous illegality, it did have concerns about a significantly reduced police presence.
He said: “Our fear is that if the police take their eye off the ball completely, then the opportunity for illegal operations and unfair competition will grow and will be rife.
“We really do rely on police to enforce the act, which has taken a great deal of effort from our members to come into line with and, if they are not there, who is going to do it?”
DCI Evans, insists that incidents of metal theft will continue to be investigated by the police.
“Forces in London, Wales and the Midlands will all retain officers dedicated solely to overseeing and co-ordinating the fight against metal theft. Other forces will also continue to investigate metal theft,” she told MRW this week.
“All forces will continue to share information, and work with affected industries.”
The taskforce was launched in 2012 to oversee the implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which enforced a mandatory licensing regime for all scrap dealers. The Government funded the initiative until October 2014.
Taskforce funding timeline
- In November 2011 the Government provided £5m for the National Metal Theft Taskforce until March 2013
- In early 2013 the Home Office announced extra funds of £529,000, on condition it was match funded by the British Transport Police, to support activity around the implementation of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in October 2013
- Funding was due to run out at the end of March 2014 but was extended until October