Warwickshire Police are using National Metal Theft Day today (Wednesday) to educate scrap dealers and collectors about new legislation.
The new Scrap Metal Dealers Act requires dealers and collectors to apply for criminal records checks, and for a site or collectors licence.
The Act was implemented on October 1, and will be enforced from December 1.
Anyone found operating without a licence after that date may be issued with a closure order and flouting that could result in an unlimited fine.
The new act also extends an existing ban on cash payments for scrap metal, and requires anyone buying scrap metal to verify the identity of the seller.
Officers will be distributing posters which have been produced by the BMRA (British Metals Recycling Association) to publicise the Act.
Scrap collectors will also be the focus of multi agency ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) operations on roads within Warwickshire, with police and partner organisations checking to ensure vehicles are road-worthy and have adequate insurance
Between April 2011 and July 2013, Western Power Distribution recorded 251 thefts and attempted thefts of cable in Warwickshire – double the number of offences than in any other force area.
Recent incidents in Rugby include an attempted theft which caused power to be lost to CCTV cameras on the M6 near Rugby on May 28 and the theft of 600m of copper cabling in Dunchurch near Rugby on June 27 which could have caused fires at nearby homes.
Chief Inspector Sarah Chaloner said: “Metal thefts are not a victimless crime. They are hitting all of us in the pocket, yet they are very difficult to prevent as they typically occur in sparsely populated rural areas overnight.
“We are appealing to residents to be vigilant, and to report any workmen who appear to be carrying out repairs at substations, climbing poles, or working on overhead cables during the hours of darkness. They may even wear fluorescent jackets and use liveried vehicles in an attempt to pass themselves off as power company employees.
“Our message to residents is to please ring in on the non-emergency number 101 to report anything suspicious, preferably with the registration numbers of any vehicles being used, so we can check it out.”
Western Power Distribution Security Manager Peter Lowe added: “Metal theft is a nationwide problem but it has escalated in the last few years and is currently costing Western Power Distribution around £1.5 million a year to put right.
“It affects our substations – but even overhead and underground lines have become targets, which is hard to believe when you consider the extremely high voltages involved.
“It’s lethal and the thieves are dicing with death for very small reward. They’re also putting at risk the lives of our engineers who have to repair and replace infrastructure that may have been left in an unsafe condition. Similarly, other innocent people could become victims.
“It’s also incredibly inconvenient for our customers – especially those who rely on electricity for things like dialysis machines – for often when thefts occur power supplies are disrupted.
“We’re stepping up our security with CCTV, anti-vandal paint, Smart water and intruder alarms, and we’re working closely with the police at a local and national level. We’ve also recently issued a booklet which identifies all our cables and which is designed to help police and scrap dealers.
“Prosecutions have taken place and have led to prison sentences. We will always assist the authorities in their prosecutions wherever we can.
“The public can help us too – for if people see any suspicious activity at our substations – including unmarked vans or trucks appearing at unusual hours, they should alert the police.”
Information about who is committing metal thefts can also be passed on via the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.