The surge in "shameless" thefts of war memorials is being fuelled by lax scrap metal regulation, town hall chiefs warned today.
Outdated laws mean "unscrupulous" dealers are able to buy up valuable plaques commemorating Britain's war dead, as well as metal from churches and railways, unchecked.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for councils to be given tough new powers to stop the "soaring" trade.
It wants a ban on cash payments so sellers can be traced, as well as the installation of CCTV with automatic number plate recognition in scrapyards.
Bosses should also be forced to keep a detailed log of people from whom they buy metal and renew their licences every year.
Mehboob Khan, chairman of the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: "It is utterly shameless and beyond contempt that anyone would desecrate the memory of those who have given their lives for their country in this way.
"The value of these metal plaques far surpasses any price these heartless thieves will get for the metal.
"Often they are the only remaining source of information on people from an area who have paid the ultimate price while serving their country.
"A lot of these stolen memorials will end up at scrap metal yards. Because of the lax regulation of the scrap metal industry, thieves can make a quick buck from unscrupulous dealers without any worries that it could be traced back to them.
"We have seen the number of metal thefts soar this year. Councils are determined to do something about this but at the moment have very little power to tackle rogue dealers.
"The Scrap Metal Dealers Act was drawn up for a different age and different environment.
"If we are to clamp down on thieves causing chaos and heartbreak by plundering metal for a quick profit, we need to give councils power to ensure the industry is properly run."
Police issued an appeal yesterday for a missing war memorial plaque, taken from Lewisham High Street in south east London last month, that contained the names of fallen servicemen from the First World War
In Tidworth, Wiltshire, a four foot-high statue of a soldier worth about £10,000 was stolen and 14 metal plaques bearing the names of 243 soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War were stolen from Carshalton war memorial in Sutton, south London, in September.
Theft of metal from railway lines, power stations and statues and memorials is estimated to cost the UK economy £770 million per year, according to figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers. PA