SFRS hosts metal theft summit

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Multi-agency partnership aims to stop thieves risking lives.

Metal Theft ACO, Justice Sec, BTP, SBRC
Left to right: Mandy Haeburn-Little (Scottish Business Resilience Centre), Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird (British Transport Police) and Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay (SFRS).

The danger caused by thieves stealing metal and the economic impact of their crimes is the focus of a major summit hosted by Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).

Backed by the Scottish Government, the British Transport Police, Police Scotland and utilities providers Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy, the event has been organised by the Scottish Business Resilience Centre to address a major threat to public safety and the economy.

Metal theft causes millions of pounds worth of damage to businesses, individual members of the public and communities across Scotland, but the financial impact is nothing compared to the potential loss of life.

Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) Lewis Ramsay, the SFRS director of prevention and protection, will open the summit at the West Training Centre at Cambuslang on the outskirts of Glasgow.  Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill will represent the Scottish Government and will also address delegates.

ACO Ramsay said: “The Metal Theft Scotland Summit brings together a wide range of partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors who are committed to tackling this threat.

“Anyone engaged in metal theft is risking lives. These are not victimless crimes and we are working closely with police and others to protect our communities.

“Thieves’ interference with power infrastructure has caused surges of electricity resulting in fires breaking out and flames and toxic smoke taking hold within homes.

“We have also seen cases where high-rise buildings have been left at severe risk due to thieves vandalising fixed equipment needed to get water to firefighters tackling a blaze.

“It isn’t hard to imagine the terrible consequences of a fire within a block where there is significant delay getting water to our crews.

“Those involved in metal theft must know their actions put the public at risk as well as the firefighters and our fellow emergency responders who are called to emergencies.

“We need the public’s help to stop those responsible for metal theft causing a tragedy. Anyone who knows of someone involved in these dangerous crimes should contact the police and help protect our communities from their reckless actions.”

In November, firefighters were called to four house fires in Greenock after interference with an electricity substation caused surges to homes and left around 280 properties without power.

A man suffered smoke inhalation as the result of one of the fires, while a similar incident in October saw a lucky escape for a man and a pregnant woman at a home in Perth.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Metal theft causes huge problems for individuals, communities and businesses and the Scottish Government is committed to cracking down on this extremely harmful, illegal activity.

“That is why we are proposing measures in our Licensing Bill, announced as part of our legislative programme for 2013/14, to tighten up the licensing of metal dealers and make Scotland a more hostile place for these thieves.

“This will be influenced by the consultation we carried out earlier this year, which included proposals to end cash payments for metal.

“Along with proposals for tougher legislation more effective enforcement has been introduced including the British Transport Police team dedicated to tackling metal theft.

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has also adopted a tougher prosecution policy in relation to this issue and courts now reflect the full consequential costs from an offence.”

Taking place on Tuesday 25 February, the summit includes specialists from SFRS, Police Scotland and the British Transport Police as well as representatives of other public agencies, major utilities companies and insurance providers.

Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, divisional commander for British Transport Police (Scotland) and chair of Metal Theft (Scotland), said: “British Transport Police has seen cable and metal thefts fall by 50 per cent in last year, but it doesn’t mean the force is complacent.

“Our communities are still being blighted; trains are still being delayed; electricity sub-stations are still being broken into; dry risers damaged, lead is still being stolen from church roofs and plaques are still being ripped off war memorials.

“These crimes not only cause immense inconvenience and upset to the public but they can also put them in real danger, and those who are foolish enough to commit the crime.

“As the divisional commander for Scotland I am comforted that the force has established a dedicated team who have become crucial in ensuring damage, theft or disruption to major infrastructure projects is avoided.

“Our officers are now embedded in the Borders Railway and Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Project and working closely with a range of partners to mitigate any threat from thieves. Today’s metal theft summit brings together a wide range of organisations determined to tackle the issue.

“The legislation being proposed by the Scottish Government will also act as a deterrent to unscrupulous individuals and the business community in Scotland can be assured that British Transport Police and its partners are doing everything in their power to ensure the threat of metal theft is kept to a minimum.”

Anyone with information on those responsible for metal theft can contact the police on the non-emergency number 101. Information can also be given anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Mandy Haeburn-Little, director of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, added: “Metal theft is an insidious crime and one which we at the Centre are delighted to support as one of our major workstreams.

“We work with partners to drive forwards awareness of the harsh reality of metal theft.  Not only can it be extremely dangerous but also it can be entirely heartless.

“There is nothing more tragic than hearing about the removal of names from war memorials or lead from the roofs of charities.

“It is a crime which can cause long lasting damage in every sense, including emotional. We all need to work together to make the theft of metal unacceptable.

“Already we have seen deaths caused by the removal of vital metal casing around power lines and we have seen horrific burns and injuries caused by attempts to break into power stations or to remove cabling from the rail network.

“The reality is that it could be someone in your family who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This could be the person to suffer. We will continue to support this vital campaign.”

Rodney Grubb, head of operations north for Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution, said: “Metal theft from electricity networks is not just illegal, but is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

“It places the lives of the general public, the culprit and our staff at risk, not to mention the disruption it causes customers who could find themselves without power as a result.  

“We therefore strongly support and welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce new legislation aimed at preventing and detecting this dangerous crime and we look forward to our continued partnerships with the Scottish Government, police, the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and others to combat metal theft in Scotland.”

Frank Mitchell, chief executive officer of Scottish Power Energy Networks, said: “Many communities are critically affected by Metal Theft. In the last year, criminals stealing from the electricity network have caused major house fires and damaged electrical appliances at many homes.

“Tragically, one attempted theft also led to the death of the man involved near Shotts.  Metal theft is not a victimless crime, it is incredibly dangerous, with potentially fatal consequences.

“We are committed to working with all other emergency agencies and industries to crack down on the criminals and we support the Scottish Government’s position to update legislation as quickly as possible.”

Metal Theft ACO Ramsay