So far this year, Gallions Housing Association and neighbouring councils, Bexley and Greenwich have experienced a sharp rise in metal thefts. All three organisations have spent thousands of pounds replacing items stolen by thieves.
For Bexley, the major problem is with its cast iron drain covers. Over 80 covers have already gone missing. This rather worrying phenomenon poses a safety hazard for both pedestrians and motorists alike.
The Council has worked hard setting up an emergency crew to quickly replace the stolen covers with new lightweight ductile covers that carry identity markings and other unannounced security features. However, it fears that unless the culprits are caught quickly, there is a real risk of serious injury.
Greenwich is experiencing similar problems. Cllr Maureen O'Mara, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services, said: "We have noticed a steady rise in the theft of iron manhole and gully covers, as well as metals from schools, churches, council properties and local business premises”.
In what appears to be a new twist, thieves recently (July 08) stole panels from inside eight of Gallions Housing Association's lifts, costing them £10,000 to replace those panels alone.
How long can this problem continue? Hopefully, not for much longer as all three organisations get tougher. Thieves and unscrupulous scrap metal dealers are being targeted. Gallions, Bexley and Greenwich Council are working more closely with the police, encouraging local people to be more vigilant and are also beefing up their own security measures.
Alison Breese, Director of Operations at Gallions, said: “This is a major problem for us and others across the country but we are taking appropriate actions to try and combat it. In addition to our work with the local police, we have increased our Neighbourhood Wardens' patrols and use of CCTV monitoring around all of our estates. Where possible, we are now using non-metallic materials to replace the items stolen. A special hotline is in place for members of the public to report any suspicious behaviour”.
Cllr Peter Craske, London Borough of Bexley's Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “The Council is determined to stop these thoughtless acts and will not hesitate to prosecute the offenders once arrests have been made.”
Greenwich Council has introduced a number of new measures to help identify stolen materials, including a registration scheme for scrap metal dealers and the use of a forensic grease known as SelectaDNA to mark items. Anyone who comes into contact with those items can easily be identified.
Cllr Maureen O'Mara said: "We need to ensure that scrap metal dealers are playing by the rules and any business found operating without having registered will be liable for a fine. These stolen metals are going somewhere and there are only so many places that are willing to buy, melt and sell them on. The Council's new registration scheme and chemical marking will help tackle the problem by keeping track of targeted materials and the criminals and dealers that handle them".
Brian Cherek, Superintendent for Safer Neighbourhoods and Partnership, Greenwich police, said: “The theft of metal has become an issue because its price has significantly increased. We intend to deal with this problem robustly by working together with out partners. If members of the public notice anything suspicious in their area, they should ring the police immediately”.
The rise in metal theft is thought to be costing the UK economy £360 million every year. Growing global demand is said to be fuelling the phenomenon but take note…the solution to this world-wide problem could be more local than you think. It calls for everyone being more vigilant and alerting the authorities as soon as they see anything suspicious.