Some 60 organised crime gangs are targeting buildings and the UK’s transport infrastructure – stripping them of metal to sell on the black market.
An investigation by MPs has found that metal theft has surged in recent years and has cost the economy over £4.3 billion over the past decade.
A new report by a parliamentary group has uncovered a crime epidemic which is causing delays to commuters and even leaving people homeless.
Last year, around 200 people had to be evacuated from a block of flats in Bradford after thieves removed power cables and turned the building into a fire hazard.
Crime gangs have been targeting the railway network and stealing signalling cable and overhead power lines and selling the valuable copper they contain.
The MPs estimate that 50 days worth of delays are caused on the rail network every year by the thieves, causing misery for millions of commuters.
The Tyne and Wear Metro was hit twice in 24 hours last year leading to services being suspended.
Travellers in the Midlands suffered days of disruption after the theft of metal caused signalling cables to catch fire between Shrewsbury and Telford.
Historic buildings have also been targeted, with nearly 6,500 incidents of theft of lead from roofs being reported last year.
In 2022, one gang made off with 120 manhole covers in four days in Doncaster.
Theft of catalytic converters from cars is up by a staggering 170%, from 10,049 cases in 2013 to 27,195 last year.
Despite the epidemic, there have been just 229 prosecutions between 2018 and 2022, the report found.
MPs are now calling for a Home Office working group to be set up to lead to tackle the crime wave. Their calls are being backed by the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA).
Andrew Selous, chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Metal, Stone and Heritage crime, said: “Metal is ubiquitous in the built environment. Without metal, we would not have bridges, electricity, cars, phones or many of the other gadgets and infrastructure we use today.
“The numerous applications of metals make them valuable, yet their value makes them attractive to steal.
“While we acknowledge that, under the leadership of British Transport Police, stakeholders and victims of metal theft have come together to endeavour to gain a better understanding of metal theft figures, our report identified 11 recommendations for the Government to consider in order to enhance its fight against metal thefts.”