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Both the Home Office and local authorities have “completely disengaged” from the fight against metal thefts, the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) said.

A report by MPs earlier this year said criminals acted with “impunity” in metals thefts, with some 60 organised crime gangs active and thefts amounting to £4.3bn during the past decade.

BMRA chief executive James Kelly said: “Operators willing to look the other way and buy stolen metal are being emboldened by the lack of enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, thereby offering a disposal route for thieves.

“While groups such as the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership (NICRP) is doing great work to tackle metal theft, the Home Office and local authorities are seemingly completely disengaged with the issue.”

The MPs’ report found that thefts of catalytic converters soared from 10,049 in 2013 to 27,195 last year, while thefts involving lead increased from 5,947 to 6,446 in the same period. But Kelly noted there had been just 229 prosecutions between 2018 and 2022 for scrap metal dealer offences.

“We need the Home Office to recognise the seriousness of the issue and to act,” he said.

Metals crime expert Robin Edwards wrote in MRW last month that some progress had been made because of the work of the NICRP and other enforcement agencies.

But Edwards said: “Criminals are changing their tac­tics because of the increase in enforcement activity and scrutiny of sections of the scrap metal industry. This change in tactics demon­strates that criminals are feeling the pressure of a more co-ordinated and structured approach to tackling crime.”

Edwards said a legally and mor­ally compliant scrap sector would “improve the trading conditions for those who are playing by the rules and make it much harder to operate for those who are not”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to crime and this includes metal theft. Police forces across England and Wales are committed to pursuing all leads where there is a reasonable chance it could result in catching a perpetrator and solving a crime.

“We provided funding to set up the NICRP, which supports policing and law enforcement partners to tackle metal theft by sharing intelligence and implementing crime prevention measures.”

The Home Office said it provided funding in 2020-21 to establish the NICRP, which includes infrastructure companies such as rail, telecoms and utilities, and has provided training for more than 2,000 police officers and other agencies in enforcement of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

It said trends in recorded metal theft can be influenced by changes in crime recording practice and it was likely some of the increase was due to improvements in recording.

The Local Government Association has been contacted for comment.

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