According to Mike Wright, partner at BTG Intelligence (part of the Begbies Traynor Group), low risk of getting caught and the fact that stealing metals and plastic is relatively easy has made minerals theft an easy target for criminals and even staff. Controls to prevent scrap merchants from buying stolen metals are weak and difficult to enforce but information sharing between North West companies - suppliers, clients and even competitors - could improve controls and raise awareness of the issue.
Said Mike: “The cumulative financial impact of mineral theft is significant in the North West but little is still being done to combat the problem. When razor wire put in place to fence off private property and keep thieves out is cut by the same thieves and taken away to be sold, we have a problem. This type of crime is very often organised and is impacting utilities, telecoms, heavy industry, infrastructure and construction sectors equally. As a bi-product of the mortgage crisis, the United States has seen a stark rise in the number of repossessed empty houses targeted in highly professional raids to strip cabling and metal fixtures and pipe work causing serious damage and devaluing the assets significantly. We are bound to face similar problems in the UK in coming months.
“The result of metals theft is additional and often catastrophic loss, increased insurance burdens, costs of repairs. Some local authority councils in the UK have even reported a chronic theft of manhole covers.”
Although metal theft is a significant problem, under reporting and lack of resources has meant the problem continues to grow:
“North West companies and organisations must report all incidents to the police, even though they sometimes don't demonstrate interest. An increase in reporting will automatically bring with it visibility and trends will be identified at higher levels,” says Mike. “If this information in recorded and shared with industry bodies we will be able to paint a more accurate picture and put pressure on the government and law enforcement to take the problem more seriously.
“Although UK policing has recognised the problem and a task force is operating across the country, it is resource intensive work and companies must take some responsibility for securing themselves. If they work with law enforcement to educate them on the industry, share useful intelligence and reduce self inflicted incidents, the problem would undoubtedly decrease.”
The problem of metal theft is something that Risk UK has targeted over the last few months looking at the potential benefits of external detection in the fight against the crimes. It is said that desperate time seek desperate measures but this is not the case with metal thefts – it’s just a new angle on the value of subject worth stealing.
When items as diverse as manhole covers and the barbed wire put around items of value to keep them secure become the target it needs a new approach from those in the security industry and especially those in the businesses that have metals stored on site. As Mike Wight says, companies need to take responsibility themselves for the stocks they have. Of course I’m not saying that all companies are to blame for their losses (some criminals are extremely crafty) but we now know that the threat exists so let’s not be leaving copper cabling in the middle of a field or next to a remote train line any more.
Fortunately not all criminals are as crafty as we might think they are. A story recently of a thief trying to make off with copper cabling whilst it was still attached to the electricity supply proves it. After 11,000 volts went through him it ended his wicked ways for good, but we should be careful not to leave temptation in the way for the smarter ones.
Julie is a law graduate who qualified with Price Waterhouse in 1994. Julie joined Smith & Williamson in 1997 and became a partner in 2001. With Mike Stevenson, Julie set up Middleton Partners offices in Salisbury and Southampton, both of which are now part of Begbies Traynor.
Julie is a member of the Insolvency Practitioners Association and is a Fellow of The Association of Business Recovery Professionals. Julie deals with all aspects of Corporate Recovery and turnaround work and takes all form of personal insolvency appointments.