Most scrapyards are well-run according to the industry's strict code. But far too big a market remains for stolen metal Photograph: Don McPhee/Guardian
Here's more on the plague of metal thefts which is threatening the heritage and disrupting travel in the north of England. The Guardian Northerner and many others are pressing for tighter regulation of scrapyards.
The vicar of Sunderland's Minster has described how he chased off a suspected thief who was shinning up a drainpipe to get at the copper lightning conductor fittings. The church is on a Saxon site right in the city centre but was rebuilt a century ago because of mining subsidence.
Rev Martin Anderson was praying inside the building when he heard suspicious noises outside. His sudden appearance startled the man who abandoned his climb and fled.
The vicar says:
When I saw the man, he was about eight or 10 feet up, pulling away at the lightning conductor. When he clocked me he jumped down immediately and brushed past me. He grabbed his mountain bike and then sped off.
The man, who is described as in his mid-30s with brown hair, left a brown rucksack and can of 7Up fizzy drink which police are checking for forensic evidence.
Pottering around Sunderland? Keep an eye out. Photograph: Christopher Thomond
The incident follows evidence to Parliament by Paul Crowther, deputy chief constable of British Transport Police, about the increasingly worrying scale of metal theft from train line. He told MPs:
The North East seems to be the epicentre of metal thefts as far as the railways are concerned. That is may be down to the tradition of heavy industry in the area where people are used to dealing in metal, and understand the value of this.
Between the beginning of January and end of August, Northumbria alone recorded 3,376 incidents, of which 411 have so far been detected. In one earlier this month, Network Rail staff had to work through the night to replace overhead equipment stolen from South Hylton Metro station. Churches have also been regular targets.
Rev Anderson says:
I think there needs to be an intense review of scrap metal dealers, in terms of who is receiving this stolen metal. There is an issue here that definitely needs addressing.
Neighbourhood Inspector Neal Craig, of Northumbria Police, says:
We continue to urge people to report incidents like the one at the Minster to us. If you see someone trying to remove any type of metal contact police
immediately. It may be that they're removing it for genuine reasons but if people contact police, we can carry out inquiries and establish whether or not it is.