METAL thieves could move their life-threatening activities to Scotland if England brings in new laws to clamp down on the practice, experts fear.
The Energy Networks Association, an organisation of cable, pipe and wire providers, has warned that the Scottish Government needs to enact the same laws currently being introduced south of the border.
The £1billion-a-year crime is though to be fuelled by demand from China, with stolen metal being shipped to the super-power in containers.
Police say the thefts are putting lives at risk, with thieves targeting padlocks from electricity sub stations and railway cables.
Westminster MP Graham Jones introduced the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill last Tuesday.
It proposes tighter licensing for scrap metal dealers, with police being handed powers to search premises and even close them sown if stolen goods are found.
The stolen property would be classes as criminal gains, which could see metal thieves stripped of their assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The Scottish Government has so far only said it will launch a consultation on introducing similar laws here.
Metal theft is though to cost Scotland around £100million-a-year.
In 2010 there were 161 incidents of copper cable being stolen from the railway network, almost three times the number in 2009.
There have been a further 115 incidents so far this year.
The rise is though to be due to the almost record price of copper which currently stands and £4,600 a tonne.
In recent weeks “live” line side cables have been stolen from Ardrossan, Ayrshire, signalling cable from Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, lighting cable in North Glasgow and an aluminium barrier from the Kelvinside Bridge in Glasgow.
A new school under construction inAnnandalewas raised earlier this month and thousands of pounds of copper pipe and data cable stolen, while in Sky a cattle grid was stolen from a road near Portree.
Electricity cables are another frequent target, leading to fears it will eventually result in casualties.
Mandy Haeburn-Little, executive director of the Scottish Business Crime Centre, said: “ The worst aspect of some metal theft is that it could affect innocent people. Going to work or travelling about. Removing padlocks from power su-stations or removing metal from railway lines could be lethal.”
Police say workers face the greatest risk from thefts as they have to go into dangerous situations to fix the damage.
Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, of the British Transport Police, said: “If you steal cabling that affects the signalling then you are potentially making that environment unsafe and forcing people to working an unsafe environment.
“I will not lead to a collision as we will stop the train but [it will cause] disruption”
The Energy Networks Association has held talks with the Scottish Government.
Spokesman Tim Fields said: “We would want to see the same legislation brought about inScotland. If it’s made harder to do it inEnglandand Wales it will only serve to push crime north of the border.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We take metal theft extremely seriously.
“That’s why the justice secretary is joining British Transport Police and other partners in taking part in a multi-agency day of action next week.”