Gold prices have reached record levels, but unfortunately this has gone hand-in-hand with a rise in theft.
By Paul Uppal MP
All across the UK, incidents of metal theft are being reported, with many areas seeing an increase in this type of theft from previous years. Statistics from the British Crime Survey 2010/11 show a rise in the category of 'other theft' which has been suggested could be linked to an increase in metal theft. These crimes range from theft of railway line cables, to attacks on church buildings where lead is stolen from roofs. Police officers are also noticing an increase in robberies of gold and silver jewellery, and West Midlands police have recently highlighted several instances of Asian women being targeted by thieves who are going as far as to steal these items directly from the individual wearing them.
Increases in this type of theft are largely being attributed to a global rise in the price of metals such as gold, copper and lead. Gold prices have reached record levels, with a reported 14% increase this year. The debt crisis in the eurozone, along with that in the United States, is further fuelling this growth in the value of gold. It is believed that thieves targeting Asian jewellery are doing so because of its higher value due to the pureness of gold often used.
Police forces across the UK are working hard to address this problem. Many forces have set up initiatives for targeting metal theft, and West Midlands police have issued advice to women to not wear a lot of high-value items whilst out and about. Even with these initiatives, it is difficult for police to target some of the root causes of the problem, namely that thieves can quickly make profit from these items. There have been many calls for an updating of the Scrap Metal Act to address the problem; but precious metals are not covered by the Scrap Metal Act. With the rise in the number of independent retailers buying and selling gold, there is a need to tackle any unscrupulous trading.
Currently, legislation surrounding the buying and selling of precious metals is limited to hallmarking, how to cost the items and consumer rights. There are no nationally enforced regulations requiring independent gold retailers to register their business with the local authority, or to record details of the items being bought, or those selling them. As a result, scenarios could occur where thieves steal gold jewellery and sell it to a retailer without having to produce much, if any, identification. Some retailers will then smelt down the items and sell them on for a profit. Within a matter of days, the items have disappeared without a clear audit trail. Consequently, it is often easy for thieves to make a quick sale, with a low probability of the items being traced back to them.
It should be pointed out however that this is not the case with all retailers. There are many that will ask for identification from the seller and keep a record of the items being bought. However, with no requirement for such practices, some retailers do not wish to take on the extra paperwork. If the police are to effectively trace stolen items, and the criminals behind them, there is a need for legislation to be introduced. Creating an audit trail on items being bought and sold would, it is hoped, discourage thieves from risking selling on these items, and help trace stolen goods.
I am conscious, that independent retailers are still facing a tough economic climate, so it is important that new legislation would be easily manageable without placing financial burden on traders. It is paramount however that gold theft is addressed, and I do believe that manageable legislation can be introduced. Requiring independent retailers to register with the local authority is one important step. This is enforced on secondhand dealers in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and is done at no cost to the traders themselves. Most important would be requirements for traders to record details and identification of the seller and descriptions of the items. These records would provide invaluable assistance for police tracing stolen items and would cost retailers very little.
I understand the government is working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers' metal theft working group to explore ways to address the increase in metal theft. Although metal theft in general needs addressing, precious metal theft requires particular exploration as there is no existing legislation. With the increasing popularity of buying and selling gold, it is necessary to ensure that practices are monitored and any unscrupulous trading rooted out so that there is no longer a market for thieves wanting to make a quick anonymous sale.
Paul Uppal was elected as the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West in 2010.
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