Sniffer dogs brought in as metal thefts cost railways £16m in five years

Watch James Webster's report seeing sniffer dog Ronnie in action

Meet Ronnie the labrador - the newest recruit trying to put an end to metal thefts which cause significant delays for train passengers and cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

New figures show that over the past five years. Network Rail has identified 333 serious metal thefts across Britain's railways. Those thefts have caused delays which total 200 days and have cost taxpayers £16 million in payments which have to be given to train companies whose services are delayed.

Metal thefts create delays and costs for the rail network Credit: ITV News

Andrea Graham from Network Rail said: "It's a really big problem for us. It's so disruptive to our passengers. People going about their everyday business are brought to a halt because somebody has stolen our cable. My message is don't bother to try and commit crime on our infrastructure because we will find you and you will be brought to justice."

Metal thefts result in an untidy mess which engineers have to fix Credit: Network Rail

To the untrained eye, thefts of metal leave behind an untidy mess, but it is a mess which prevents services from running on time and takes time and money to put right which is why Network Rail is now stepping up efforts to stop such crime.

Metal which is installed near the tracks is being coated in special sprays which have a unique DNA fingerprint which helps identify stolen material and people who have touched it.

One of the companies which supplies the spray to the network is SelectaMark, whose spokesperson Nick Roach says: "We can track anything that's recovered by the police back to where it was stolen from and we can link any criminals that have been in contact with it to that theft."

The spray can also be detected by sniffer dogs, which are making surprise visits to some scrap metal dealers around the country, to remind them not to handle stolen metal. By law they must ensure that traded metal is legally sourced and that sellers’ details are recorded and kept as part of any sale.

Organised criminal gangs are increasingly targeting metal used in infrastructure and exploiting high metal prices.

Superintendent Mark Cleland, British Transport Police national lead for metal crime, said: “We’re working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence.

"By taking a multi-agency approach, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our national infrastructure, making it harder for them to sell stolen metal and gain from their activities."