From war memorial plaques to railway cabling, nothing is safe from metal thieves. Reporter NINA MASSEY finds out more.

THIEVES across the News Shopper area are cashing in on the lucrative business of selling metal to scrap dealers.

Lead flashing is being stolen from roofs, along with copper pipe work - particularly from unoccupied properties, manhole covers, memorial plaques and copper cabling.

British Transport Police

Cable theft is a major problem for the rail industry.

As well as thefts from depots, criminals risk their lives to steal lineside cable causing disruption to services.

Signals default to red if interfered with, but the theft of other metal components causes potential safety hazards.

Millions of passengers have been affected and delays total more than 16,000 hours over the past three years.

Meanwhile, ten people have been killed in metal theft incidents in the past year.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther is chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers Metal Theft Working Group. He describes the thefts as one of the force’s biggest challenges after terrorism.

He said: “Metal theft, in any form, is a direct attack on our communities.

“When the target is the railway, the thieves are directly affecting the travelling public who use trains to go about their daily business and indirectly affecting businesses and services whose employees are delayed by the disruption.”


According to the Met’s latest crime figures, south-east London has the highest rate of metal theft in the capital.

Bexley police’s Sergeant James Coomber said: “The demand for metal from countries like China, Israel and India has increased.

“It started in about 2006 but has reached a peak over the last couple of years and where there is a demand there will obviously be a supply.”

He added: “We have found that more seasoned criminals are now turning to metal theft because it is seen as more lucrative.

“The sentences have not really reflected the crime. It is not seen in the same light as residential burglary.

“We have powers to enter scrap metal yards and inspect them.

"They are required to keep a record of the names and addresses of everyone who deposits metal, and details of the vehicles that were used to deliver the metal.


Around 80 bronze memorial plaques were stolen from Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery in September.

In October thieves stole around 30 metres of copper piping which ran along the outside of St Andrew’s Church in Court Road, Mottingham.

Three brass war memorial plaques were stolen from the Livesey Memorial Halls in Perry Hill, Catford in October.

Two bronze plaques were stolen from a war memorial in Sidcup Place, Sidcup, in October.

In August News Shopper reported that drivers in north Kent were being warned to take extra care when driving after the theft of 200 drain covers from Kent roads.


Sydenham Metals’ managing director Michael Longford said: “We would not accept war memorial plaques. We do not take them full stop. What we would do is inform the police.

“We don’t take anything in that looks suspicious or looks like it has been stolen.

“We don’t take railway cables either. We have a manual that tells us what sort of leads are acceptable.

“We require identification from anyone bringing scrap in so that we know exactly what is coming and going from who.”