Scrap Metal Thefts in Decline

Friday, 15 March, 2019

Commodity Watch by UFU Legislation & Rural Affairs Policy Officer Lorraine McKnight

Scrap metal has a long history of falling victim to rural thieves and although the actions of these rural thieves could be described as somewhat opportunist.  In many cases, the thief will already have sourced a buyer for the stolen scrap and are in effect ‘stealing to order’. During the Winter months, many farms may have a ‘stock pile’ of scrap, which has accumulated following routine maintenance tasks and this ‘stockpile’ is not only financially attractive to any potential thief but it is also relatively easy to steal. Thieves have been known in the past to travel right across the Northern Ireland Countryside with the aim of locating and stealing such ‘stockpiles’ of scrap metal. Keeping this ‘stockpile’ out of sight is obviously the easiest step that any farmer can take to deter such thieves but some scrap metal dealers will provide the farmer with a secure skip to locate on their farmyard, and will arrange to collect the skip when it is full to capacity. When storing any such ‘stockpiles’ of scrap metal by placing the heaviest items which cannot be lifted by hand at the top of the pile, this will help to make it more difficult for any potential thief to access the smaller more portable items.  

In recent years, the number of recorded incidences of scrap metal theft have actually decreased in number. In 2013, the UK government passed a new piece of legislation known as the Scrap Metal Dealers Act introduced to prevent the theft of metal, which could be stolen and then sold on for cash. This tough new Act has reduced incidences of scrap metal theft from nearly 62,000 in 2012-13 to approximately 16,000 incidences in 2015-16 (Source: UK government metal theft statistics, 2018).  At its peak in 2009-2011 scrap metal theft cost the UK economy more than £220 million per a year (Source: UK government metal theft statistics, 2018). The Scrap Metal Dealers Act brought into force strict licensing requirements for scrap metal dealers, identity checks for those selling scrap metals and the creation of a new offence for dealers to purchase scrap metal for cash. The purpose of the Act was to enforce stricter regulations on the metal recycling sector making it much more difficult to dispose of stolen metal. 

A relatively new piece of legislation the UK government have recently agreed to keep the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (2013) in place. Not only has this piece of legislation helped to protect farmers and rural dwellers from incidences of such theft. It has also helped to protect the rail network, power cables and phone lines avoiding any unnecessary disruption to the public and has helped to protect buildings of national heritage such as War Memorials and Church buildings. Scrap metal theft does remain a live threat and the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (2013) remains a powerful tool in the fight to curb such criminality. 

The UFU Legislation Committee would encourage all members to report all incidences of scrap metal theft to the PSNI. By reporting all incidences of scrap metal theft, this will ensure that the PSNI are fully aware of the scale of the problem and can deploy resources accordingly to help reduce incidences of scrap metal theft. If scrap metal theft goes unreported to the PSNI this could make it easier for thieves to escape detection. 

In Northern Ireland the PSNI in conjunction with local Council’s Policing and Community Safety Partnerships offer support to help reduce the risks of rural crime such as scrap metal theft through the Farm Watch scheme. The Farm Watch scheme aims to primarily reduce crime and the fear of crime in the farming and rural communities.

Any farmer interested in becoming a member of Farm Watch should contact their local Policing and Community Safety Partnership through their local Council. All Farm Watch members will be provided with:

  • Signs to advertise that the scheme is active in that area
  • Signs for farm machinery, warning that the property is marked
  • A unique reference number with which to mark your farm machinery, making it harder for thieves to dispose of stolen goods
  • A machinery Assets Register for recording all your equipment
  • Practical crime prevention advice to help you make your property and goods as secure as possible
  • An email and text alert service on issues relevant to your area