Reports of metal theft in Hampshire have increased, new figures show.

The British Metal Recycling Association said the surge is most likely due to increasing metal prices and economic difficulties, and warned the true numbers may be far greater.

Home Office figures show Hampshire Constabulary recorded 688 metal thefts in the year to March – an increase of 13.7% from 605 the year before.

Of those, 433 were non-infrastructure related, involving scrap metal theft or the removal of war memorial plaques.

The remaining 255 were infrastructure-related, which include the stripping of metal such as roofing lead from buildings, taking electricity or railway cables, or stealing vehicle parts.

Antonia Grey, head of policy and public affairs at the British Metal Recycling Association said: “Over the years, the type of theft shifted from low-value, low-volume thefts to high-value, high-volume thefts such as entire lead roofs.

“In the face of recession and economic difficulties, it is likely that the true numbers of metal thefts are far great than those published by the ONS, which does not report all metal theft incidents.”

This gave the areas covered by Hampshire Constabulary a rate of 3.4 thefts per 10,000 people – lower than the average of 4.9 for England and Wales.

Although there were 1,474 fewer metal theft offences across England and Wales in 2022-23 than in 2021-22, numbers have been on the rise in the last two years.

There were more than 28,400 thefts as of March, while just over 19,000 were recorded in the same period of 2020-21.

The same was true for Hampshire, where metal thefts recorded this year were more than double the number reported by the police in March 2021 – 315.

Mark Cleland, superintendent at the British Transport Police said: “Metal theft can have a huge effect for all communities, not least for the rail network.

“This year we’ve run numerous weeks of intensification across the UK to target metal crime and formed the national infrastructure crime reduction partnership which involves working with numerous industry and enforcement partners to prevent metal theft and pursue offenders.”

Ms Grey added: “When the Scrap Metal Dealer Act 2013 was implemented, the BMRA warned that it would only be effective if it was properly enforced.

“While there was a funded Metal Theft Taskforce, thefts continued to fall but this funding ceased in November 2014. This fall in thefts was mirrored by a fall in the prices of scrap metal such as copper and lead.

“As local authority and police service budgets have been cut, we have seen the number of operators choosing not to renew their scrap metal dealer licence grow because they know the act is not being enforced. ”

The figures also revealed police forces across the South East registered 2,434 metal thefts – up 8.6% from 2,241 the year before.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are taking a zero-tolerance approach to crime and, as we recently announced, police forces across England and Wales have committed to pursuing all leads where there is a reasonable chance it could result in catching a perpetrator and solving a crime.

“The police have made progress in preventing crime across the country, with neighbourhood offences like burglary, robbery and vehicle theft down by 51% since 2010.

“We provided funding to set up the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership which supports policing and law enforcement partners to tackle metal theft by sharing intelligence and implementing crime prevention measures.”