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8 November 2012
MPs are being urged to ensure that the country's last chance to tackle scrap metal theft is not derailed in a crucial debate in Parliament this week.
On the eve of Remembrance Sunday, local authorities are pressing for urgent action to be taken to tackle a crime which has seen memorials desecrated, caused transport chaos and cost the country hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is warning that a long overdue overhaul of scrap metal legislation will fail to materialise if the report stage of Richard Ottaway MP's Private Members Bill ends in deadlock on Friday.
Councils of all political parties are urging MPs to ensure the Bill is taken forward.
Cllr Mehboob Khan, Chairman of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“MPs owe it to their constituencies to do everything in their power to turn the tide on this mindless crime which is spiralling out of control.
“Scrap metal thefts have caused transport chaos, closed down churches and schools, and caused heartache for families who have seen memorials to loved ones plundered for scrap.
“To steal at all puts public safety at risk but to take cherished memorial plaques is a heartless and offensive crime
“The legislation for regulating the scrap metal industry has long ceased to be fit for purpose and we can't afford for Parliament to stall any longer on bringing it up to date.
“It will be a devastating blow to the millions of people who have been inconvenienced, injured or distressed by the metal theft epidemic if this opportunity to make a stand against metal thieves and rogue scrapyards is squandered.”
The majority of metal stolen by thieves for profit will end up being bought by scrap yards. But outdated legislation regulating the industry means that unscrupulous vandals who plunder metal, including plaques commemorating Britain's war dead, are able to profit from their crimes without it being traced back to them.
There are an estimated 100,000 memorials in the UK. The rising cost of metal has increasingly made them a target for thieves looking to make a quick buck.
Earlier this year, LGA research found that soaring scrap metal thefts have affected almost nine in ten councils, with thieves plundering drain covers, road signs, roofs, war memorials and graves.
The theft of gully covers, electric cables and street furniture have led to people falling down holes, power cuts and councils having to spend millions of pounds on repairs and replacements.
· Last month more than 100 brass plaques erected in memory of loved ones, many of them war dead, were stolen by metal thieves from the memorial wall of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Swansea.
· A bronze plaque bearing the names of 12 soldiers who lost their lives in the Second World War was stolen from a junction in Brentwood last month. Brentwood Borough Council has ordered a replacement.
· Police officers uncovered about 300 plaques that had been cut up into pieces during a raid on a scrap metal dealer in Croydon in June. It was subsequently confirmed that some of the broken memorial plaques had been stolen from Putney Vale Cemetery. Wandsworth Council's cemeteries team have ordered replacement plaques in a material called Traffolyte – a non metallic material suitable for engraving. The new materials are used to retain quality while ensuring the plaques do not become targets for callous metal thieves, whose actions result in suffering for the families and friends who commissioned the memorials. Any new plaques being mounted in the borough's cemeteries will also be made using Traffolyte.
· Earlier this year hundreds of memorial plaques from churches and crematoriums with inscriptions commemorating the dead were found by police in a raid on a scrap metal yard in London. The haul, seized in May, also included a statue of Christ, a crucifix and a one tonne bronze dragon statue.