The number of metal thefts recorded by police in Dorset rose by almost 300 per cent in one year, figures have revealed.

Home Office data shows that in the year 2017/2018, the total number of metal thefts in the county increased by 287 per cent from 79 to 306, the highest increase across England and Wales.

It was the first time in five years that Dorset Police recorded a rise in metal thefts, after a steady decline in the crime year-on-year, but the force has put it down to an "anomaly" due to the introduction of a new crime recording system.

Earlier this month, we reported how a small community church in west Dorset was targeted by a gang of thieves who stole sheets of lead from the roof. The crime at Church of St Andrew and St Peter in Toller Porcorum is going to cost £60,000 to put right and a fundraising campaign is now underway.

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act was introduced by the government in 2013 as a response to an increase in metal theft between 2009 and 2011, enforcing stricter regulations and making it harder to dispose of stolen metal.

Police data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed a decline in Dorset from 832 total offences in 2013, to 79 total offences in 2017 - a 90 per cent decrease. However there was a sudden spike in 2018 with numbers of metal thefts totalling 306.

When recording the offences, police differentiate between infrastructre-related metal theft and non-infrastructure related metal theft. The Home Office says infrastructure-related metal theft is the removal of metal that has a "direct impact" on the facility, such as water, heating, electricity, railway cabling and roofing lead.

Non-infrastructure-related metal theft is "the removal of metal that has no direct impact on the functioning of infrastructure and/or fabric of a building or machinery."

In the year 2017/2018, infrastructure related metal theft increased by 150 per cent and non-infrastructure related metal thefts increased by 140 per cent.

This chart details the total reported incidents of metal theft in Dorset over six years:

2012/13             832

2013/14             513

2014/15             309

2015/16             191

2016/17             79

2017/18             306

Dorset Police said the spike in thefts in 2017/18 is down to a new crime recording system introduced four years ago.

A police spokesman said: "The reported number of metal thefts between 2016 and 2018 is significantly higher in Dorset than the national average and this anomaly is due to a new crime recording system, which was introduced in 2015 and affected the way metal theft was identified from the theft crime type for part of 2015/16 and in 2016/17.

"The above statistics show that the reported incidents for last year mirror those seen before the introduction of this system. This has now been resolved.

"Dorset Police takes reports of all thefts extremely seriously and would encourage anyone who is the victim of incidents such as metal thefts to contact us.

"We would also encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity in their community to Dorset Police."