GOVERNMENT plans to outlaw dealers’ paying cash for scrap metal received an enthusiastic welcome from Church House, Westminster, this week.
On Thursday of last week, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced in the House of Commons that the Government would legislate to “create a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal”. She said that fines for offences committed under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 would increase “significantly”.
Mrs May said: “The Government consider that legislation is the only sustainable, long-term solution to the growing menace of metal theft. There is an urgent need to make metal less attractive to criminals, and tackling the stolen-metal market will act as a significant deterrent.”
She said that scrap was often paid for “without any proof of personal identification or proof that the individual legitimately owns the metal being sold”. This leads to “anonymous, low-risk transactions for those individuals who steal metal”.
Anne Sloman, who chairs the C of E’s Cathedral and Church Buildings Council, said on Monday that the Home Secretary’s announcement was “excellent news”. “The Church has campaigned for a long time for legislation to outlaw cash transactions for scrap metal. We are still suffering the theft of lead from ten church roofs a day.”
On Monday, a judge warned that metal-thieves who raid churchyards and scrap dealers who buy the proceeds would be jailed for the distress that they caused.
The judge, Recorder Richard Woolfall, was speaking as he sentenced a man to six months’ imprisonment for handling part of a £23,000 cache of memorial plaques stolen from a garden of rest at St Mary’s, Mirfield, in West Yorkshire.
The judge said that the items were of great sentimental value, and their loss had caused great distress. The Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, the Revd Hugh Baker, had described how the impact on families and friends had ranged from tears to bewilderment and anger. One said that he felt as if he had been punched in the stomach, and another was physically sick.
Leeds Crown Court had heard how Nathan Hallsworth was arrested after he took 24 lb of brass and gilded metal to a Wakefield scrapyard last September, for which he was paid £30.20.
The thieves had removed the inscriptions from many of the plaques and bent them out of shape, but when staff at the scrapyard examined the metal more closely, they realised what they were and called the police. Officers discovered that they were part of a haul of 169 plaques from St Mary’s.
They were too damaged to be re-used, and St Mary’s has since set up a fundtowards their replacement.
Jonathan France, the scrap dealer who contacted the police, said after the hearing: “We are open and honest, and happy to help the police. If everybody in the industry took a collective responsibility, it could go towards stopping metal-thefts, but unfortunately not everyone is as scrupulous as we are.”