Rail industry representatives met the House of Commons transport select committee yesterday (8 November 2011) and described 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 cumulative total of 365,000 minutes or 253 days. The cost to the industry over the last three years has been more than £40m.
Representatives from Network Rail, the Association of Train operating Companies (ATOC) and the British Transport Police (BTP) called for new measures that would help to reduce cable theft. These include:
- A licensing regime with 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 to give local authorities funds to regulate the licence.
- 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.
- 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 search premises owned and operated by a scrap metal dealer.
- 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.
Network Rail operational services director Dyan Crowther 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."
ATOC chief executive Michael Roberts said: “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.”