Churches, railway infrastructure, hospitals and public artworks are the most vulnerable targets for thieves, with many stolen items shipped abroad to Eastern Europe, India and China. The price of copper and other metals have risen sharply in the past two years, fuelling the scrap metal market.
Alarming crime figures, published in the The Daily Telegraph, show that 1,000 crimes per week are attributed to metal theft, with the Southwest of England, East Anglia and Oxfordshire as core hotspots. The Bishop of Oxford Rt Rev John Pritchard wrote in the newspaper that the government needs "new regulation now" to stop cash transactions "with no effective record or paper trail" taking place in scrapyards across the country.
The Metropolitan police earlier this month initiated an action day where 400 scrapyards were investigated for stolen items. It also launched the Waste and Metal Theft Taskforce to combat the crisis that has been described as bordering epidemic levels and "second only to terrorism" on the police priority list, the Met said.
In the past week, a memorial to Holocaust victims has been stolen, while copper thieves wrecked 81 operations at a Welsh hospital after stealing cable from its medical equipment. An ornate 4ft brass lectern stolen from a church in the Cotswolds was discovered by a man at an antiques fair in Romania. He knew it belonged to the Holy Cross Church in Ashton Keynes, Gloucestershire because the name of the church was engraved on the lectern.
Church insurance specialist Ecclesiastical Insurance said that in the Diocese of Exeter 30 churches had claimed for metal thefts in 2011, compared with 10 in 2010 and five in 2009. Thefts this year in the diocese have caused damage amounting to £60,000, it added.