West Midlands Police deal with almost ten cases of metal theft every day, it has emerged.
Home Office figures revealed the scale of the problem as tough new laws designed to clamp down on the trade in illegal metal came into effect.
Heartless thieves in the past have stolen slides from children’s playgrounds in Birmingham as well as £30,000 worth of goalposts.
Libraries and schools have been stripped of lead roofs. Copper cabling and pipework is particularly sought -after while electricity substations and railway lines have also been targeted.
Forces are now recording incidents of metal theft as a specific category for the first time, and West Midlands police recorded 3,427 incidents in the 12 months leading up to April 2013. Staffordshire recorded 1,234 cases, Warwickshire recorded 557 and West Mercia recorded 716.
New laws have made it illegal to trade metal without a licence – and police have the power to revoke licences where they suspect illegal activity is taking place.
Magistrates can issue fines of up to £5,000 to any metal trader they find dealing in cash, operating without a licence or breaching the licence conditions.
The figures suggest incidents of metal theft have fallen throughout the year. There were 20,151 incidents reported nationwide in the first quarter of the financial year, falling to 12,076 in the final quarter.
Chris Kelly, Conservative MP for Dudley South and founder Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft, said: “Metal theft has a huge impact and costs the economy around £220 million a year. This crime affects everyone — from the stealing of cables that delay your rail journey home to the shocking theft of war memorials. That is why the Government has tightened the net around rogue sellers and funded a new taskforce to crack down on metal theft. And from this weekend it will be illegal for people to trade in scrap metal without a licence.
“We are on the side of people who play by the rules and are sending a strong message to rogue dealers — you will be caught.”
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “Metal theft has a huge impact on communities and I’m encouraged to see an early reduction in this crime. The early signs are that our changes, including increasing financial penalties, banning cash payments and improving enforcement through the National Metal Theft Taskforce are starting to take hold.
“This crime affects everyone — from the stealing of cables that delay your rail journey home to the shocking theft of war memorials which costs hours of police time.”
Last month 28-year-old Christopher Paxon of Raby Street, All Saints, Wolverhampton, was sentenced to 16 months after destroying more than £7,500 worth of frozen food when he stole copper pipes from a freezer system at a Midland supermarket.
Three thieves admitted plunging scores of rural Midland homes into darkness by stealing 300 metres of electrical cable.
Andrei Acs, 21, of Piers Road, Handsworth, Zoltan Acs, 30, of Queens Head Road, Handsworth, and Laurentiu Batanu, 21, of Wood Avenue, Hockley, all pleaded guilty to theft at Warwick Crown Court. They took copper equipment from overhead power lines in Warwickshire, leaving customers without supplies.
Earlier in the year, Graham Leith, aged 27, of of High Street, Studley, Worcsestershire, was jailed for three and a half years at Worcester Crown Court after he stole 185 manhole covers during a three-month crime spree between November 2011 and January 2012.