News : Drivers being put at risk by metal thieves

Daily Telegraph
David Millward

Motorways are losing light...
Motorways are losing light...

What had once been thought of a problem confined to the rail network is now spreading to the entire transport infrastructure, MPs were told at Westminster. Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said: “This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets.”

Recent incidents have seen street lighting cable plundered on major roads, causing sudden blackouts, such as on the A63, which links the M1 and the centre of Leeds in recent weeks. According to West Yorkshire police cable worth more than £200,000 has been stolen with the outer casing being stripped off and sold on.

Last month thieves threw one of the Government’s managed motorways schemes into disarray after stealing cable used to connect signs and closed circuit television cameras.

It meant that the Highways Agency was unable to open up the hard shoulder to ease congestion on the M6 between Walsall and Wolverhampton. In some cases thieves who believe they are getting away with valuable copper have been stealing fibre optic cable, which is almost worthless. It is not only cable theft which is posing a threat to motorists, according to Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety.

‘When you are talking about metal theft you also have to take into account warning signs being stolen,” he said.

‘If this happens on a bend, it can be really dangerous. On a remote road in North Yorkshire, for example, you would expect chevron signs and if that is not there it is much more worrying.”

In a move to curb the activities of the metal thieves, George Osborne, the Chancellor, announced a £5 million task force which will be dedicated to tackling the criminal gangs and scrap metal dealers who trade in stolen material. But Mr Baker, giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, made clear that he believed new laws were needed to tackle metal theft, including possibly updating the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

“British Transport Police has indicated that it would be helpful to have new powers. There is a general concern, which I am very happy to share, that the legislation in place isn’t designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing.”

[Source: Daily Telegraph]

Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. I work on the motorways. The problem of cable theft has always been there. It is getting worse though. Not just power cables but anything metal in structure has been targeted over the years.
    Security has been tightened significantly but the thieves know were and when to strike. Suspect a lot of thefts are inside jobs, as many thefts happen in areas that only people with network knowledge would know about.

  2. Sorry not got time to read this until later. If you want a “Top story” you need to read todays issue of “Motorsport News” all about MG about to enter the BTCC.

  3. You’d think a writer in the Daily Telegraph would know the difference between ‘Through’ and ‘Threw’…

  4. The problem is the metal dealers who are happy to give a *cough* lesser rate for metal, in exchange for a no question asked transaction.

    As for the soundbite from the BTP, I deal with these hapless idle slur on the nations real police frequently. You try and get them to a cable theft even with a crime number….

  5. I Weighed in some old cast iron guttering and some bits of old copper pipe the other week (been renovating the house). The scrap dealer asked for my car reg number and address, then said “it’s just for the police you know what they’re like” he didn’t bother to check any ID or even look at the car reg, so there was no reason why i couldn’t have just given him false details.

    I almost don’t throw any metal away now, i have a couple of small wheelie bins at the end of the garden when they’re full i go and weigh them in, it’s well worth my trouble. So you can see why someone would risk nicking a few hundred kilo’s of copper each week when they can get thousands of pounds for it with little chance of being traced.

  6. @ #3:
    The author does indeed know the difference, hence why it is spelt correctly in this case: ‘threw’ is the past tense of ‘throw’, as in ‘throw into disarray’.

    Suggest you get an education before passing comments about others.

    As for British Transport Police indicating “that it would be helpful to have new powers”, well, if that includes turning up the voltage through the cables to fry a few more of these thieving ‘bar stewards’, bring it on!

  7. The scrap metal dealer I use will only accept the metal if you provide them with a passport/drivers licence and a household bill. The up side is that they pay the best for all metals and it’s where alot of smaller dealers take their metals to be weighed in.

  8. As I said on the MG6 story, a high visibility Motorsport is what MG needs, especially if the BTCC can get back to the 90s halcyon days with the new regulations!

  9. Sadly it is in the mains electricity networks as well. They will nick all the laid earth wire too. In turn makes everyone’s electrical protection unsafe. Fry the little sods, As having a shock does blooming hurt. I work with live cables every day.

  10. Man hole and drain cover thefts, create are a serious hazard.

    In the case of farm machinery thefts, the toe rags attend a farm dispersal auction an buy one of an item to obtain a receipt,

    Thereafter, they can nick as many of that item as they can get their grubby hands on- but providing they only have one on board at a time, they have a receipt to show if they get stopped.

    Scrap dealers should be licensed and only pay sellers by cheque or BACS.

  11. “Man hole and drain cover thefts, create are a serious hazard.”

    Not half! In an area near me, some scumbags stole all the metal grills from the old cellar windows, leaving 5 foot deep holes in the pavement. Could have been interesting if it had snowed…

  12. “its mainly smackheads thieving metal.”

    Most of the people you see queuing to get into scrap yards, appear to be let’s just say Irish and travel about a lot.

  13. Any scrap value in speed cameras?

    On the bright side, since copper prices are now so silly there might be a chance of Cornish copper mines reopening?

  14. @6

    Trust me, mate, I have one!

    The article has since been altered – it did say ‘Through’ when I first read it, honestly! I know it’s supposed to be ‘Threw’, as in to have thrown, hence my comments – I think it’s been amended in response to that!

  15. “Any scrap value in speed cameras?”

    Yes, there is value in any metal. Although unloading a gatso from the back of a trailer in a scrap yard might be a little obvious. 😀

  16. May I suggest everyone concerned about metal theives and unscrupulous metal dealers, you do the following, go to and type in ‘Cashless Scrap Metal Trade – Amendment to Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964’ – sign the petiton and when it gets to 100,000 it will have to be discussed in Parliament. Worth while cause.

  17. One Sunday a crew of workmen turned up to a small metal canal bridge near my house to do some vital repairs. They had proper brand new sign written vans, road cones, temp traffic lights, hard hats , hi viz vest etc. They then took away the side of the bridge and replaced it with some orange plastic netting and drove off never to be seen again. All the equipment was nicked and they had all the H&S bits & bobs so no one questioned their motives! this is true and you can’t help feel slightly amused by their cunning. But what gets my back up are the B**tards who nick War Grave Brass plaques or in danger peoples lives with their greed.Equally bad are the scrap yards who except the metal and they should feel the full weight of the law.

  18. To those who asked about the MG6 BTCC news I spoke of, sorry but I never did read the item and now don’t have the paper. I looked for it on the web and found very little. I did email Keith and thought it may have been on here by now. Keith did you get a copy and is it true?

  19. “To those who asked about the MG6 BTCC news I spoke of, sorry but I never did read the item and now don’t have the paper. I looked for it on the web and found very little. I did email Keith and thought it may have been on here by now. Keith did you get a copy and is it true?”

    Why on earth are you posting this here? It’s all about metal theft!

    Surely it would have made more sense to post it in one of the articles about the MG6 at least?

  20. The A63 in Leeds is a well known pikey area. Coincidence? I think not! Police need more powers to deal with this sort of sub human dirt. If they are caught, perhaps some form of permanent branding, and any scrap dealer dealing with these scum is jailed for life?

    Also I think it is time that the voltage & ampage was upped, so that as soon as they cut into the cables, they are toast!

    I also think it is time that ‘metal recycling’ was put into the hands of local councils.

    BTW, last year a well known local yob was BBQ’d when he broke into a substation. Served him right.

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