MINISTERS have warned they are prepared to act to stop scrap metal dealers helping thieves make easy money.
Rising metal thefts have seen the North East declared the crime’s UK epicentre by senior police officers as transport bosses struggle to cope with the impact of stolen cables.
Now the Government has said it is prepared to introduce tough new laws to curtail the problem. The warning comes as scrap metal dealers in the North East are this week urged to sign up to a voluntary scheme seeking to introduce greater checks on those selling metal.
Speaking yesterday Lord Henley, the Home Office’s Crime Reduction Minister, said: “I think it likely that we will have to regulate. We will have to improve the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act which colleagues have been saying is well past its sell-by date.”
Asked if he backed a Private Member’s Bill in which one MP is pushing for a ban on the quick cash sales favoured by thieves, the minister said: “The broad gist behind it is something that we could welcome.
“The idea that possibly you could go cashless is something we’re considering, as well as the idea that you should provide proper proof of identity when you get to a scrap metal yard.
“At the moment you can just go there and sign in as Mickey Mouse or whoever. We want proper ID so there’s greater transparency and a greater chain of who owns what.” Lord Henley added: “I welcome the fact that some voluntarily are moving in this direction.
“The rest of the industry say they are keen on regulation and will co-operate with that regulation but are not yet persuaded that they need to go cashless.
“I think we’ll be having some very realistic discussions with them about that.”
It is hoped an estimated 240 scrap metal dealers in the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland police areas will sign up to a six-month trial being coordinated by British Transport Police.
Thieves have caused widespread damage across the North East in more than 4,000 reported incident last year.
On Tyne and Wear Metro, cable thefts have become a growing problem and Nexus, which owns and manages the system, has spent £300,000 carrying out repairs.
The worrying statistics prompted the deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police, Paul Crowther, to tell a Parliamentary select committee in November that more needs to be done to reduce cable and other metal thefts.