Monuments vanish, power cut as metal thieves stalk UK

Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:55am EST
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By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON (Reuters) - For years a bronze statue of Alfred Salter sat on a bench looking out on a quiet bend of the River Thames, a memorial to a doctor who dedicated his life to a London district once infamous for Dickensian levels of poverty and disease.

Now the bench is empty after his statue fell victim to a wave of metal thefts sweeping Britain, threatening artworks and ravaging infrastructure as thieves seek to capitalize on soaring metal prices and a cash-in-hand scrap industry.

Memorial plaques and artworks are unsentimentally lumped together with electrical cables and drain covers in the hunt for illegal metal, which police say costs Britain hundreds of millions of pounds each year and kills two thieves a month.

"He was an inspiration to many people and a tireless campaigner against social injustice and so it's a great shame that thieves have now taken his memorial," said Salter's last remaining relative Johanna Crawshaw, who has pledged to double a council reward for information leading to the statue's return.

Reward posters are plastered all over Bermondsey, once home to a riverside slum depicted by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, in the London borough of Southwark.

The borough was also the site of another metal theft earlier this month, from a public park where only two stumps remain of a valuable artwork by renowned British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The local government called the theft part of a "sickening epidemic."

Churches have reported the theft of metal war memorials and on Thursday Britain's Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported the theft of a bronze memorial commemorating Holocaust victims.

In Wales, University Hospital Llandough was forced to postpone more than 80 operations this month, including on cancer patients, after metal thieves targeted one of its generators.   Continued...