In the latest incident, operations at Llandough Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan have been cancelled because someone stole the cables connecting the emergency generators to the site. This is the latest in a spate of life threatening thefts which have seen railways brought to a halt, motorway warning signs disconnected and phones cut off.
Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said last month: "This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets."There is a general concern, which I am very happy to share, that the legislation in place isn't designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing."I'm sorry Mr Baker, but this isn't enough. The government should have brought forward legislation by now to deal with the matter. In the past, governments have rushed through (often ill considered) legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act in a matter of weeks They can find time to talk about banning or charging for plastic bags and discuss issues like gay "marriage" in churches, but seem incapable of tackling something that is costing a fortune and putting lives at risk.
As they, or the Civil Service, seem deviod of ideas, could I suggest a few pointers.
1. All scrap metal dealers to be licensed, the licence fee being sufficient to encourage the consolidation of the industry into a few largish companies.
2. No cash transactions, all payments to be made to a bank account.
3. A record to be kept of all purchases in an approved register, the seller to provide identity similar to that required under the money laundering legislation.
4. Substantial penalties; loss of a dealer's license for failure to keep proper records or make sufficient enquiries about the source of scrap, and mandatory imprisonment for those selling stolen metals.
5, Amend the law in such a manner that anyone involved in metal theft is not brought before a court accused of simple metal theft, but is also accused of causing losses to the value of the repair cost, transport delays, etc.
This in some respect is the greater problem, a local church had lead stolen from its roof worth less than £50, but the repair cost ran out at something over £5000. Punishment needs to be in terms of the latter value, rather than the former.
We need action now, not once people have been killed as a result of, say, a major accident on our railways due to the theft of signal cable, or the loss of life at sea because the coast guard communications had been cut.