Rail Industry Focus


Cable theft ‘dying off’ among low-level offenders

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2015

Detective Chief Inspector Alison Evans, head of the metal theft unit at British Transport Police, talks to RTM about the importance of legislation, joint working and harsher sentences in beating cable theft from the UK’s rail network.

In the last five years the number of cable theft incidents has plummeted from a high of 995 reported incidents in 2010-11 to 66 in 2014-15, according to Network Rail figures. But how has this happened?

 RTM caught up with Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Alison Evans, head of the metal theft unit at British Transport Police (BTP), who said that since the nadir five years ago there has been a lot of joint working with partners right across the rail sector.


 DCI Evans told us: “There hasn’t been one golden bullet to tackling cable theft. It is not a case of if we do X, Y and Z then metal theft will disappear, it certainly won’t.

 “Legislation has helped hugely, and it will be interesting to see if that’s transferable to any other industries.”

 The law in question is the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. Before it came into force, it was too easy to steal and sell metal because it was so difficult for police to trace the metal or the culprits. “People would steal cable or catalytic converters or lead off a church roof and they could get rid of it straight away and they had the hard cash in their hand,” she said.

 “Taking out the immediate reward was really important. If you have to receive a cheque or a bank transfer, you don’t get the money immediately, you have to go through another process. This process means we can trace you if we check scrap metal dealers’ records and we can trace these through your bank accounts because we have the powers to be able to do that.

 “The legislation has been useful as an investigative tool but also as a deterrent,” DCI Evans said.

Technology and Taskforce

 BTP uses a Network Rail helicopter, CCTV, forensic marking, trembler alarms and other devices to protect railway cables, and encourage better security at depots and lineside. A “huge amount of work” has been going on to mark cables and sheathing, she said. But this cannot be the only approach, she said.

 Back in the August/September 2014 edition of RTM, we reported that the National Metal Theft Taskforce (NMTT) was to be disbanded.

 DCI Evans had headed the NMTT, and we asked her what this meant for the future of tackling cable theft. She said: “We were really fortunate because we had put an exit strategy in place to roll-down the Taskforce by April 2014.

 “We had done a lot of work creating educational packages and raising awareness among frontline staff. The fact that we got the extra six months [through government funding] meant we were able to refine that. It also allowed us to make sure people had the right understanding around the legislation, their powers and that they had built up local networks.”

 RTM was told that it would be “foolish” to keep putting special teams into metal theft when its threat no longer matches that of other crimes. “We wouldn’t be providing value for money,” said DCI Evans, adding: “It was the right thing to do.”

 High-profile prosecutions

 Back in September 2014, a BTP investigation resulted in a cable theft gang who stole cable worth £500,000 from all over England’s rail network, leaving the rail industry with a £2m repair bill, receiving a combined 17 years in prison. The whole industry has worked with the Crown Persecution Service and the Magistrates’ Association to explain the true impact of cable theft, which has helped prompt more high-profile sentences like that one. 

 DCI Evans said: “We’ve highlighted that when they [the legal system] are looking at somebody – whether it be a gang or single thief – they should not just think of it as the culprit has taken X amount of cable,” she said. “You have to think about the impact of the theft and crime they have committed, as it affects a lot more people than just the stretch of cable that has been stolen.

 “That has resulted in some serious sentences, and it has sent out a really strong message. Among the low-level offenders, this has died off hugely.”

 Further reductions?

 Asked how much further the industry can reduce incidents of cable theft, Evans joked: “That is the million dollar question.”

 It has been suggested that after the major crackdown, the only way incident rates can go is up. But DCI Evans said: “I don’t believe that is necessarily the case. I still think there is room for improvement and still think we can keep decreasing the incidents.”

 DCI Evans, who will be moving on from the metal theft unit soon, and will be replaced by Detective Superintendent Gary Richardson, says she will head to her new role with a “sense of pride” in how cable theft has been tackled.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com


Andrew Gwilt   14/03/2015 at 21:22

Its a good way to stop thieves from stealing high voltage Alternated Current (AC) (25,000v) 25kv Overhead Wires and other high voltage copper wires that would impose a £5000 fine and a minimal sentence of up to 6 years in prison and to show how dangerous the AC 25kv Overhead wires are which can injure and kill anyone who tries to steal these high voltage overhead wires. The Great Eastern Main Line in Essex has seen hundreds of cable thefts in recent years and it shows how the law takes place on the railways.

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