URGENT action is needed to combat a metal theft epidemic that is sweeping the country and putting lives at risk, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has claimed.
The MP for Pontefract and Castleford said rocketing copper prices have prompted a surge in cable theft from railway lines as well as attacks on war memorials.
Ms Cooper wants to see a new system of licensing scrap-metal dealers – rather than current registration with councils – as well as strengthening police powers to close rogue traders down. “Metal theft is becoming an epidemic, and urgent action is needed from the Home Office to put a stop to these sickening and dangerous attacks,” she said.
“The Government should back the police in their fight against metal theft by pledging to change the law to make it easier to stop this organised crime.
“This out-of-touch Government needs to get a grip and crack down on this crime. It is still too easy to trade stolen metal. When cases are becoming this serious the Home Office shouldn’t turn a blind eye or just leave it to the police. We need action and we need it now.”
Ms Cooper described the vandalism and theft of war memorial plaques as “shocking and disgraceful”. She said that in her constituency the theft of copper wires to a house triggered a gas leak, and ultimately an explosion which devastated six houses.
Yesterday she visited the Joshua Project in Bradford, which helps young ex-offenders, and also spoke out against police cuts which she said could damage neighbourhood policing.
Ms Cooper strongly criticised the Government’s controversial plans to hold elections next year for police commissioners, claiming the £100,000-a-year salaries would concern the public at a time of spending cuts, while the estimated £100m cost of the elections could provide an extra 2,000 police officers.
Furthermore, the Government is understood to be considering suspending all chief constable appointments until the commissioner elections are held next November – potentially having a major impact on North Yorkshire Police, where Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, who has no permanent deputy, has been told his contract will not be renewed next May.
“We have said that it would be far better to be putting the money into more police on the beat than elected police commissioners,” Ms Cooper said.
“At a time when we have got serious problems with the scale of public policing, it would be far better to spend that money on 2,000 more officers than elections for police commissioners next year.
“The Government hasn’t thought this through. They are making it harder for the police to do their job, to have the right leadership, and these delays in getting chief constables in place such as in North Yorkshire are because of this confused approach.”
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said police commissioners will “give the public a voice and hold chief constables to account”.
She added: “Their election will further strengthen the relationship between the public and the police, and allow us to replace bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall with democratic accountability to local communities.
“We are keen to ensure that a suitable and proportionate remuneration is achieved for such a challenging and rewarding role.
“The Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) has recommended a salary scale of £65,000 to £100,000, with each police force area within England and Wales being weighted against this scale.
“The Home Secretary is grateful for the work undertaken by the SSRB and will reflect on their advice and recommendations.”