Something I don\’t understand about scrap metal

But the last five years have seen a doubling in cases of metal looting, driven partly by economic hardship and partly by a thriving Chinese scrap market. Campaigners want an update to the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, to ban cash transactions and introduce strict dealer registration. This would also make a point about what we value.

I\’m deeply unconvinced that we want to make recycling more difficult in this environmental age. But what\’s the justification being used here?

Things fall apart, Ozymandias crumbles to bits, and the level of disorder in a system always increases unless some force intervenes to put it back into shape. In recent weeks, fortunately, such a force has been at work – and it is the police force of Croydon. Having recovered a haul of around 450 memorial plaques that were stolen from cemeteries, broken into fragments and sold to a scrap metal yard, they are now painstakingly reassembling the memorials as a giant jigsaw on the floor.

Umm, who told the police that this material was at the scrap yard?

My assumption is that it would have to be the scrappie. No one else is going to know that the stuff is there after all.

And if it is indeed the scrappie who has given the tip off, doesn\’t this show that it\’s not the scrappies that need the regulating?

23 thoughts on “Something I don\’t understand about scrap metal”

  1. “Umm, who told the police that this material was at the scrap yard?

    My assumption is that it would have to be the scrappie. No one else is going to know that the stuff is there after all.”

    Faulty deductive reasoning, there. Not every murder investigation starts with a confession from the murderer..

    Disgruntled partner, friend, lover, etc. Loose lips sink criminal organisations.

  2. And another issue – did the thieves just dump the metal in the scrapyard? If not, then the scrappie (or his workers) aren’t paying enough attention at point of purchase. Just because audit find out and bubble you, doesn’t negate the original crime / error.

    Or, to address Tim’s actual point – okay, possibly it means that the wider corporate governance is working (even given Julia’s plausible alternative). But, given that what we want to prevent is the original theft – the banning of cash transactions is, at least, a logical attempt to allow traceability of the crooks.

    I’m not saying I support more law – but it is rational.

  3. Erm, given that the original “transaction” is criminal, why would banning cash transactions make any difference? Handling stolen goods is already a criminal offence.

  4. why would banning cash transactions make any difference

    It doesn’t make any difference to the legality of the transaction but it makes tracing the thieves (or, at least, the fence who collected the metal and sold it to the scrappie) an awful lot easier. Regardless of whether the scrappie is just a passive participant in the criminality (careless, busy, trainee on the till) or an active and knowing malevolent cog in the engine of petty crime.

  5. I’ve dealt with scrap merchants repeatedly over the years & my experience is they’re not the people to try & unload dodgy gear onto. They wouldn’t even weigh through half an aluminium beer keg someone had used as a plant pot because the kegs are the property of the breweries.

  6. Paul,

    Yes – but the crooks know who the careless or egregiously blind minority are. Unlike bis, who probably just goes down to the local one.

    Anyway – even a crooked scrappy is going to do a risk / reward calculation. Half a beer keg off of somebody he doesn’t know? Not worth the risk it might be Trading Standards. A couple of industrial reels of high-grade copper wire from somebody he’s known since he were a lad (and knows they ‘fell off the back of a lorry’)? An entirely different beast.

  7. SE has it, re improving traceability.

    Regarding Tim’s point about “[being] deeply unconvinced that we want to make recycling more difficult in this environmental age”, the point is that the wider costs of metal theft (in terms of disruption to public transport (signalling), telecoms links, electricity supply) are greater than that that might be caused by making recycling a fractionally more difficult/expensive.

  8. What the polit scum want is to set a precedent for attacking cash transactions. (Do I hate the govt scum more than the crooks?. Yes I do–and I really hate crooks.)

    The crooks should switch currencies–possibly Tide detergent might be as useful here as in the USA.

    As for those who steal memorial plaques, the answer would be council hacks that protect the cememtaries we pay for (by violent means if necs) and the use of chainsaws to lop of the hands of thieves who have no respect for the dead.

  9. Call me a heartless rationalist, but I’d like to know whether the police are being paid to do jigsaw puzzles. If so, what for? What are the bereaved relatives going to do with pieces of plaque? Why not just buy them a new one and send the police out to catch the criminals?

  10. PaulB – I don’t think it’s necessary for every scheme to have some universal overarching/underpinning theoretical justification and objective. In fact in education I’m convinced that doing so is likely to be positively harmful (greater chance of misinvestment, particularly overinvestment in the latest fad or the whims of changing education secretaries; the danger of consistency – if we cock something up, we screw up an entire generation). The advantage of a mishmash where schools do separate things is that at least some kids somewhere will get the ‘right’ thing, whatever that is, and since we are talking about skills likely to be useful to a minority of people rather than universal/basic ones, that’s quite enough. Since we are attempting to arm them with skills that turn out most valuable when that generation hits their economic peak in their 40s/50s we can’t claim to know for sure where priorities should lie, and some very different guesses may be plausible. There are folk who claim everyone ‘must’ learn to program computers or the national economy will fall behind, that everyone ‘must’ learn a musical instrument (often pointing to ‘personal growth’ and ‘intercultural communication’ and sometimes to studies showing improvements in other subjects – similar tactics to the language lobby), that everyone ‘must’ learn maths at 16-18 level, that schools ‘must’ teach cooking /citizenship/critical thinking/ national history/work life balance/career planning/ driving … There are a hundred and one hobby horses, all of whom have valid points to some extent, not all of which can be simultaneously implemented because there aren’t enough hours in a day! But also it doesn’t seem to matter too much if not everybody gets everything – most people will never have to write computer code or hold a conversation in Mandarin (or Latin). So long as everybody gets something, and everything is got by somebody, we ought to be ok!

    Language learning may well be devalued to some extent by advances in machine translation (currently good enough that there’s little point learning a language just to be able to read the national press, which would have been a strong reason in the past) but it’d be unwise to gamble all the chips on that. And most kids would get something out of Chinese, or Latin, or French, even if it’s different things!

  11. The risk of a mishmash approach is lack of continuity from primary to secondary (or for school-movers) – that would require some careful planning, no point learning French at primary if no way to carry it on post-11. But one suggestion has been for secondary schools or clusters thereof to take the lead organising primary language provision in feeder schools, including providing the staff (which eases the ‘lack of expertise’ problem).

  12. Gah, not only has my mobile device screwed up the formatting I have emerged in the wrong thread. I’ve had the former problem before, but the latter is particularly annoying!

  13. Re the comments at 6 & 7 above;
    I’ve used metal recyclers enough to have contracts with them. These guys are very cute. The guy who weighs you in can assess what the metals are at a glance. Doing something like turning up with a bag full of smashed up memorial plaques’d have them on the phone to the police in an instant. They wouldn’t want it anywhere near the yard, let alone the bronze bin. Ditto rolls of cable etc They certainly don’t want plod requiring them to account for every other item of metal they’ve got in triplicate. They keep records of all vehicles, require ID & often provenance for the items. For them it’s pure self defence. They’re in a business where they could be handling stolen goods. They know there’s eyes on them.
    Yes, the moody stuff goes somewhere although my suspicion’s there’s a lot of E. Europeans etc who’ve stripped metal in the belief things are as loose as their own country, then found they can’t offload it. They dump it or leave it in a lock-up hoping to find a buyer.
    Some of the car dismantlers might take it. Certainly known cars disappear into the crusher for a back hander, no questions asked so….. They could be exporting it as steel scrap with the dodgy metal inside the crushed cars. But that’s just guessing. Melting it down to casting stock here is problematic because which user is going to buy it in with no paper trail? They wouldn’t know, for sure, what the alloys were & metal separating isn’t a back garden industry

  14. PaulB @11
    My guess it’s because the plaques are the property of the grave owner not the cemetery. To get a sure conviction. being able to show whose property’s been stolen is probably helpful. Mr Lud may enlighten.

  15. Yeah, the rest of us are struggling to use bank accounts. It’s tricky technology, let it bed in before we make the scrappies use them.

    Councils and police do regular inspections (supposedly with no notice) of yards specifically to look for beer kegs, statues, cable and other stuff.

    Fact is, someone is paying for this stuff, it keeps turning up in scappies yards The excuse that they didn’t have a clue it might be stolen and that no, they don’t remember who it was, and they paid them cash just won’t wash.

  16. Mr. Ecks

    Excellent idea. On that basis, can we throw the crooks who stole the copper from my church roof off the top of the tower?

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    Surely recycling is cheaper in China. Why sell it to a someone who is going to melt it down in the UK? Sell it to a guy who has a shipping container going to China and that’s the end of it. The Chinese can melt it down into rebar.

    The only problem would be if it was a bad shape for storage. Flat plates are excellent shapes. The major problem for people with scrap metal to send to China is probably weighing out (that is, their container becoming too heavy while still mainly empty) rather than cubing out (that is, their container being full before it reaches the maximum allowable weight). So they probably don’t even care what shape it is.

  18. SMFS: whenever you send a shipping container to China, you need to provide a customs declaration of what’s in it (both for the Chinese authorities and from the security/safety of the shipping company). A container labelled “loose scrap metal” is liable to attract the attention of the authorities for the reasons above.

    If you want to stay out of jail, the sooner you can remove the “Property of Network Rail” or “In beloved memory” tags from your stolen scrap, the better…

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    john b – “whenever you send a shipping container to China, you need to provide a customs declaration of what’s in it (both for the Chinese authorities and from the security/safety of the shipping company). A container labelled “loose scrap metal” is liable to attract the attention of the authorities for the reasons above.”

    You think they look at even 1% of shipping containers coming in and out of the UK? Of those, you think they give a damn about those going out? It is drugs (and perhaps people) coming in that is their main focus. I can think of many things I would rather be doing than searching a 40 foot shipping container that would have to be unloaded by hand. Every piece of metal inspected. For a problem that until recently no one cared about. I am sure that the Customs people can too.

    “If you want to stay out of jail, the sooner you can remove the “Property of Network Rail” or “In beloved memory” tags from your stolen scrap, the better…”

    Assuming they can track you down from your Customs documents and arrest you.

    I still just don’t see it.

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