METAL thefts in Sheffield have soared by 46% over the past year as criminals are encouraged by rising prices and the ease of quick sales for cash.
As one of the largest multi-agency operations so far was carried out in the city this week, police revealed the scale of the problem, which has seen largely copper and lead stolen from houses, businesses and other properties.
Residents in Sheffield have suffered the theft of flashing from around bay windows, outside taps and gates from driveways. Church roofs have been plundered, and manhole covers and roadside telecommunications boxes have been taken for their scrap value.
More high profile - across South Yorkshire and the rest of the country - have been break-ins at electricity sub-stations, which have caused power surges and fires, and the theft of copper cable from railway line, which has delayed trains.
South Yorkshire Police said this week there had been 1,893 ‘metal thefts’ across Sheffield from the start of September last year to the end of August - up 46%.
Working with other organisations, the force is mounting regular operations – up to one a week – looking for vans that may be carrying the loot and checking the books of local scrap dealers.
Chief Inspector Iain Chorlton, who is the Sheffield police lead for metal theft investigation, said: “It’s a challenge but we’ll keep at it. We don’t give up. We are listening to people who are saying it is a real issue and it is an important priority for us.
“The message is that if you are stealing the stuff, and you are on the way to a scrap metal dealer, you might well bump into a police officer.”
Numbers of thefts have grown to epidemic proportions across the UK as metal prices have gone up and criminals, ranging from petty thieves to organised gangs, are attracted by the ease with which stolen metal can be sold for cash.
There may be some eventual relief from the theft of lead, though, as a result of prices dropping by 20%, said CI Chorlton.
In some cases, such as at electricity sub-stations, people were undertaking some very high-risk crimes, he added. And there could be a cost in time and inconvenience for the victims, such as flooding as a result of the theft of outdoor taps.
South Yorkshire Police is backing legislation that would halt cash transactions in scrapyards to make it easier to trace payments.
Meanwhile, an operation on Monday saw checkpoints set up in the Attercliffe and Halfway areas and the stopping of 180 vehicles. Multi-agency teams visited nine scrap dealers to check documentation and stock and to give crime reduction advice.
Spin-offs ranged from nine fixed penalty tickets for traffic offences and three vehicles being seized to the launch of six fraud inquiries.
The operation was rolled out by the Woodhouse and Mosborough Safer Neighbourhood Team working with other police sections, including officers from Rotherham and Derbyshire, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, British Transport Police, the SmartWater team, the Department for Work and Pensions and the council’s Environmental Protection Enforcement Team.
Inspector Jason Booth, of the Woodhouse and Mosborough Safer Neighbourhood Teams, said: “This was a partnership operation to tackle a problem that many people in Sheffield feel quite strongly about. We are determined to keep looking at initiatives to stop those who feel that stealing metal is an easy crime and we accept this will take time but we remain determined in our efforts.”