According to The Daily Telegraph, metal theft has increased dramatically in Britain with an estimate of over 1,000 thefts per week.
Metal thefts from British churches alone have doubled within the past three years.
Burglars are targeting church roofs, war memorials, irreplaceable artwork, community centers and plaques in cemeteries, among other predominantly metal-based parts.
The Daily Telegraph reports, 60,000 offenses were committed just in the first 10 months of this year, twice the amount in the past five years.
Last week, thieves stripped a $784 050 (£500,000) 7-foot tall bronze sculpture called “Two Forms (Divided Circle),” by Dame Barbara Hepworth from its base in Dulwich Park, south London.
Rt. Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, told The Daily Telegraph that the government must act quickly to manage the scrap metal industry.
“The damage done to churches is out of all proportion to the value of the melted down lead," Rt. Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, said. “The promise of change is near, but it can’t come soon enough for victims suffering with trauma.”
Areas with the most reported increases in metal theft include Cambridgeshire, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Surrey.
The British Transport Police currently ranks metal theft second to fighting terrorism in its priorities, as some areas record metal theft making up one-tenth of their total recorded criminal offenses.
Figures may be even higher as some cases of theft go unreported.
Last week, the Metropolitan Police set up a task force to begin tackling the issue. The Home Office, the United Kingdom’s government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order, is also running a $7.8 million (£5 million) drive to help those affected by the theft.
“Metal theft is a menace on society because it has such an incredible negative impact on communities right across Britain,” a British Transport Police spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Telegraph reports metal theft costs the British economy over $1.2 billion (£770 million) each year, as thieves are targeting public buildings. According to Police, the problem is worsening as gangs see the opportunity to make large profits due to a mostly cash-based system, which makes tracing thieves impossible.
Ministers are considering making cash exchanges at scrapyards illegal to curb profits on stolen metal.
To collect its data and make estimates, The Daily Telegraph contacted every force in Northern Ireland, England, and Wales, as well as the British Transport Police to find out the exact number of metal thefts they had on record.
A total of 29,132 metal thefts were committed up to the beginning of November of this year, according to the 23 forces in Northern Ireland, England and Wales that supplied figures.
If these figures were repeated across the country, it would mean that between 50,000 and 60,000 metal thefts, or 1,000 per week, were actually committed, compared to 23,743 metal thefts reported the previous year.
The Home Office will soon debut a specific metal theft code to accurately record the crime levels, according to The Daily Telegraph.
The Home Office is considering taking larger measures to regulate scrap yards under the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, including banning cash purchases and trade restrictions.
“Metal theft is a serious and growing problem and the government is working hard with police, other law enforcement agencies and industry to tackle it,” a Home Office spokesman said in a statement. “That is why we are looking at a range of legislative options, including ending payments in cash for scrap metal.”
An estimated 800 illegal yards, the same amount of legal yards, are operating in the U.K.