‘New laws needed to tackle rail cable theft’

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Cable theft on the railways – Yorkshire’s fastest-growing crime – has escalated into a “major problem” and new laws might be needed to tackle it, the Government has admitted.

Transport Minister Norman Baker told MPs yesterday that current legislation “isn’t designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing”.

Calls for new legislation have been led by British Transport Police (BTP), which last year reported an 83 per cent rise in offences relating to cable theft in Yorkshire and the North East.

The force wants Parliament to limit the high number of cash deals done at scrapyards, with tougher penalties for metal recycling firms that accept stolen metal.

In January the force will begin a pilot scheme, codenamed Operation Tornado, that will require anyone selling metal to show photographic ID and proof of their address.

The scheme will begin in the North East, but officers will seek to roll it out across Yorkshire if it is successful.

Mr Baker told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the transport police now regarded cable theft as second only to terrorism in its list of priorities.

“BTP has indicated that it would be helpful to have new powers,” he said. “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.”

He said changes to the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which carries a maximum fine of only £1,000, had not been ruled out.

The rail industry had initially taken the view that it was best not to publicise cable theft to try to avoid “copy-cat activities”, Mr Baker added. “It’s now a major problem,” he said, “and it’s very serious for the rail industry, for passengers and for industry.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Metals Recycling Association and other Government departments were meeting to consider changes to the law.