Speaking at the hearing, industry representatives set out the disruption that cable theft causes to rail passengers. It is estimated that last year cable theft affected almost four million passenger journeys, delaying passengers by a total of 365,000 minutes. The cost to the industry over the last three years has been over £40m.
Representatives from Network Rail, the Association of Train operating Companies (ATOC) and the British Transport Police (BTP) also called for tough new measures that would help to reduce disruption to passengers caused by cable theft. These include:
- A robust licensing regime with clear requirements on scrap dealers to take steps to reduce the risk that stolen materials are purchased or received.
- Scrap metal dealers to pay a licence fee in order to give local authorities greater funds to facilitate the regulation of the licence.
- Property obtained by breaches of the legislation to be classed as criminal assets allowing Proceeds of Crime provisions to apply.
- Police powers to close scrap metal dealers and police authority to search and investigate all premises owned and operated by a scrap metal dealer.
- Measures to restrict trade in scrap metals to cashless payments and introduction of a requirement that scrap metal must be held for a certain period before being sold or processed in order to allow payments to be processed.
- Searchable records to be kept of proof of identity of the seller of scrap and any vehicles used to transport it, for example through photo ID and CCTV.
- Magistrate powers to add restrictions on to licences and to prevent re-opening of closed yards until conditions have been met.
Dyan Crowther, director operational services at Network Rail, said: “Britain is under attack from metal thieves. Every day hundreds of passengers and essential freight deliveries are being disrupted and delayed. We are doing all we can to protect the network; investing around £2m each year to fund extra BTP officers, using CCTV, forensic marking techniques and other technology.
“To an extent our actions can help us manage the crimes but, despite our efforts, they continue to increase. We believe that the only way to significantly reduce metal crime is to take away the illegal market and that more robust legislation and police powers are needed to achieve that.”
Michael Roberts, chief executive of ATOC, said: “Cable theft is regularly bringing disruption to thousands of passengers up and down the country. The industry is doing all it can to stop the thieves, but the time has come for further tough measures. To deal with the problem more effectively, we also need tighter regulation on the sale of scrap metal and tougher sentences for offenders.”
DCC Paul Crowther, of BTP, said: “Metal theft, in any form, is a direct attack on our communities. When the target is the railway, the thieves are directly affecting the travelling public who use trains to go about their daily business and indirectly affecting businesses and services whose employees are delayed by the disruption.
“We will continue to drive home the message to thieves and unscrupulous scrap dealers that their criminal activity will not be tolerated, but there is more to be done and we could be assisted by new regulations and legislation to reflect the needs of the 21st Century.
“We are conscious of the need to protect the business interest of law-abiding scrap metal recyclers, but there has to be a way to meet all the requirements around greater enforcement whilst respecting the interests of legitimate businesses.”