Your neighbourhood manhole cover could have been a UK church steeple

June 27th, 2008 - 1:55 pm ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, June 27 (IANS) The next time you see a brand new manhole cover in Delhi or Mumbai, just remember that it may have once been a British ship propeller or a church steeple. Metal pilfering is on the rise in the UK like never before and everyone is blaming it on the rising demand in expanding economies like India and China. Metal thefts have increased by 70 percent in the railways, thousands of churches have been shorn off bronze moulds, ships find themselves without propellers and many have fallen into sewers as manhole covers have gone missing.

It is not difficult to find bus shelters without shelters, buses without frames, cars with emptied guts, even non-existent road signs. Newham council in London, for example, spends pounds 60,000 a year replacing stolen manhole covers. According to Police Professional magazine, 400,000 beer kegs went missing last year.

There is a case of thieves stealing the internet cable from the house of National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall, even using his farmyard to melt it down.

Chief constable of the British Transport Police, Ian Johnston has declared the issue their second-biggest challenge after terrorism. According to the Police Review, metal theft is the fastest-growing crime in the UK, says The Guardian.

There is more money in metal-pilfering than there has ever been before. The price of copper, for example, rose by 332% between January 2003 and January 2008, according to the London Metal Exchange; there has been a 75% increase in the price of aluminium; pure lead sells like gold.

Global demand for these commodities is at a rising high - and that demand is driven, in large part, by fast-industrialising economies such as India, Brazil and, particularly, China, which is where a lot of this metal is going, according to metal experts quoted by the newspaper.

The British scrap metal trade is a legitimate international business worth four billion pounds annually.. The UK, according to the British Metals Recycling Association, exports 60 percent of its recovered metal, mostly to these countries, and while most of it is entirely above-board and legal, illegal shipments are on the rise too.

Even the man on the street knows this. Chris Potter, a car mechanic in Leicester, says he has shifted his business from car repairs to deal in scrap. “I get paid

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