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By: MarkJ - 20 December, 2011 (8:15 AM)
copper cable uk scrapbt openreach copper cable metal theft and SmartWaterThe Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) has today announced the launch of a new Waste and Metal Theft Task Force (WMTTF) with BT, which is to be based in Bexley where a large number of scrap metal yards can be found. Copper cable theft is estimated to cost the UK (across all industries) almost £1bn per year (up from £770m in 2009) and continues to be a problem despite growing efforts to tackle it.

The Local Government Association (LGA) recently demanded tougher powers to tackle the problem after it suggested that some thieves were being helped by old legislation that made it difficult to regulate the scrap metal industry.

As a result the pressure was ratcheted up last month (November 2011) when the UK government announced that it planned a crackdown on related crimes, which have impacted broadband, phone, transport, industry and emergency services right across the country.

A previous operation to tackle metal theft, which was called 'Operation Ferrous', recently came to an end and revealed some interesting statistics. During the first two weeks of December 2011 officers carried out 275 inspections and searches of scrap metal yards, arrested 15 people for related offences and seized 16 vehicles.

The Met's Head for Operation Ferrous, Chief Superintendent David Chinchen, said:

"Metal theft is not a victimless crime but is causing increasing misery to commuters and householders, and costing millions to the rail industry and local authorities.

Our latest operation aimed to identify, disrupt and deter those involved in this illegal trade, and acted as an important intelligence-gathering exercise for future operations so that we can target those evading the law and those who supply them even more effectively.

We are keen to work with legitimate scrap metal dealers, but those who aren't can expect to see regular enforcement."

Meanwhile the criminal activity continues. Last week Merseyside Police conducted multiple raids and uncovered 12 tonnes of copper telephone cable, which had been stolen from BT; four arrests were made and seven fixed-penalty notices issued.

BT's own solution is to use SmartWater to forensically "tag" copper cable, it also sprays metal thieves whom attempt to steal from its facilities. This makes it much easier for Police to identify, trace and punish related criminals but some thieves have adapted.

The problem has been fuelled by past surges in the value of scrap copper, although we note (see right) that the prices have fallen sharply over the past 12 months due to a decline in manufacturing and demand; this can of course be linked to current economic woes.

Never the less, hardly a week seems to go by without at least one report of broadband and telephone services being cut-off because of related criminal activity. The Task Force will have its work cut out in trying to prevent such thefts.
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