Monday, 26 March 2012

A ministerial reply on the Governments failure to tackle metal theft

Dear Graham
Thank you for your letter of 6 March to the Home Secretary regarding the progress the Government is making to tackle metal theft. I am replying as the Minister for Crime Prevention and Anti-social Behaviour Reduction with responsibility for metal theft.

I do not accept your accusation that the Government is not taking metal theft seriously, or that we are making insufficient progress.

We accept that the scrap metal trading licensing regime needs reform and are taking the practical and legislative steps necessary to do so. There are of course, as you will know, longer term legislative reform that is required and we intend doing this as soon as Parliamentary time will allow. In the meantime, and reflecting the urgency of this issue, we have tabled a number of amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which, together, will make a huge difference in tackling this crime. The amendments cover three areas: first to increase the financial penalties under the current Act; secondly to prohibit cash payments and thirdly to grant police officers revised powers of entry. Prohibiting cash payments is a significant step to take for any government, but is necessary to reduce the low riSk/high reward for this mindless crime. Subject to the will of Parliament, these measures will receive Royal Assent by the end of April and be enacted later soon after.

In your letter you say that this problem has been around for a long time; you are entirely right in saying that and yet the last Government did nothing in 13 years to tackle this escalating crime. This Government has recognised the seriousness of the problem, providing £5million of Government funding to immediately improve the law enforcement response in this area by establishing a dedicated National Metal Theft Taskforce. In answer to your questions on this taskforce, the taskforce is fully operational.

The taskforce was set up in December 2011 and is being run and coordinated by the British Transport Police, under the direct leadership of a Detective  Superintendent, with input from both the Home Office and the Department for Transport. The taskforce is made up of various regional hubs of police officers and partners, aligned to the eleven ACPO regions, undertaking additional enforcement activities to achieve the strategic objectives, driven and coordinated by the British Transport Police. The six agreed key strategic objectives of the taskforce are:
1) Reduce the theft of metal;
2) Increase the level of offenders brought to justice in relation to metal  theft and non-compliance with current legislation;
3) Disrupt organised criminal networks involved in metal theft activity;
4) Implement a structured pattern of scrap metal dealer visits;
5) Improve compliance with the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and associated legislation regarding licensing and registration; and
6) Development of an enhanced intelligence picture of metal theft activity across the country.
The National Metal Theft Taskforce is supported by the British Transport Police's
Metal Theft Fusion Intelligence Unit. This innovative unit of police and business
partnership is resourced by police staff and representatives from Network Rail and BT, the Environment Agency and has links to the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the insurance and liquefied petroleum gas sectors as well as wider  industry.

Bids have been received by regions and funding is allocated accordingly by a  bids panel consisting of Police and Government officials to agree criteria. To date, thirteen bids have been approved with funding provided to six different regions to
deliver 'additional' activity.

Within days of its funding and formal establishment, the Taskforce undertook a national day of action involving 565 officers around the country that resulted in:
• 588 scrap metal dealers visited and inspected;
• 81 people arrested; and
• 34 vehicles seized.
Additionally, Operation Tornado went live in January in the North East of England,
with the taskforce funding a series of covert policing operations which resulted, in its first month alone, over 300 police officers and other partners raiding ten scrap metal dealers across the region resulting in
• 35 people arrested;
• £900,000 in cash seized;
• £7,000 of Northern Powergrid cable recovered; and
• 30 tonnes of stolen cable seized.
The police also recovered an illegally stored shotgun, two tasers, significant  volumes of cannabis and stolen plant machinery from associated house searches.
Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland Police have reported that metal theft  offences have fallen by almost a half since Operation Tornado commenced at the start of the year.

The taskforce has also successfully negotiated with the Environment Agency (EA)
the secondment of three dedicated members of staff: one intelligence analyst with
EA system/information access and two national coordinators who will work with
police to develop a national structured visit and inspection programme for scrap
metal dealers.

I trust that this activity assures you that this Government is doing as much as it can, as soon as it can, to tackle metal theft and I am grateful for your continued interest in this serious matter.

Lord Henley