Nothing is sacred in this £1billion a year crimewave – as war memorials, churches, wheelchair ramps and even the final resting places of dead children are targeted.
Organised gangs have also caused untold disruption to the rail and electricity networks.
More than 4,000 incidents were reported in the North East - one of the areas hardest hit - over the past 12 months alone.
But it is the desecration of memorials to the war dead, and loved ones in cemeteries, which has caused the most anguish.
Mum Stacey Plain was devastated when decorative iron railings were taken from the grave of her little boy, who died from meningitis aged 18 months.
The final resting place of her son Jordan Lee Cardiss, who tragically passed away nine years ago, was ruined by the grave robbers.
Dad Dean Cardiss, 27, who visits the grave every day, had put up railings he hand-made as a special tribute.
Stacey, 27, from Beeston, Leeds, said: “The grave is all I have left of my son, just that little grave to go and see.We go there to feel closer to our baby and to speak to him.
“The pain I felt when I saw his tribute destroyed was like we had lost Jordan all over again. I felt sick. You can tell it is a baby’s grave. For them to rip his fences out of the ground is sickening.”
The heart-breaking theft epitomises the consequences of the crime blighting the country.
In the past year, they have rocketed as the price of scrap increased.
Copper has doubled in price to over £5,000 a ton since 2009. The rise is driven by growing global demand for metals, prompted by China and India and other booming economies.
The illicit trade in stolen metal is costing the UK economy £1billion a year. Garden ornaments, farm gates, manhole covers, road signs – thousands of them have disappeared across the country.
Labour is backing widespread calls for new laws against the “no questions asked” dealers fuelling the trade.
In the past month alone, thieves snatched a Zimmer frame from a woman in her late 80s in Stanley, Co Durham, while another took a walking aid from a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy in Tynemouth, North Tyneside. National licensing regulations are needed to replace the current system for scrap dealers who are required to simply register with local authorities, according to Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell.
He wants dealers to be prosecuted if they are found to have knowingly bought stolen scrap metal.
“It is a terrible trade and it is getting worse,” he said. “These thieves will take anything for money. There must be some dealers who know fine well that what they are buying has been stolen.
“It is public property and, in some cases, part of our heritage that is being taken from us.”
Churches have suffered heavily at the hands of the unscrupulous scrap thieves. “There is not a diocese in the country unaffected by lead theft,” says Katri Link of Ecclesiastical Insurance.
The Church estimates more than a third of its 16,000 buildings have been targeted, many on several occasions. There have been more than 2,000 insurance claims this year compared with 12 in 2002.
After paying out £24.5million since 2007, Ecclesiastical has capped its payments at £5,000.
One night last month, thieves used crowbars to remove plaques bearing the names of 700 fallen servicemen from a memorial in South London.
David Plattern, of the Royal British Legion local branch, said: “It is disgusting. The only reason they can come here at night is because the people on there gave their lives so we could have this open society.”
War Memorials Trust director Frances Moreton added: “If you have lost this memorial and lost a plaque then, in effect, you have lost a touchstone to your history that you may never get back.”
When criminals plundered lead from the flat roof of Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln last month, the epidemic was described as “one of the biggest threats to the country’s heritage”.
The Government is debating legislation to tackle the crisis, with the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act now seen as inadequate. Labour wants dealers to be licensed, cash trading banned and police empowered to close down rogue traders.
Ministers have met to discuss converting the whole UK metal trade to a cashless system where all transactions require ID and a credit or debit card.
With France and Belgium already having such a system, the UK has fallen victim to “theft tourism” with gangs coming in from mainland Europe to rip out our power network.
Power and telecommunications firms and rail industry chiefs have branded the crisis “out of control”.
Power supply firms were hit by 6,000 metal thefts last year, with 25,500 homes experiencing black-outs. And that means bills go up.
There are fears hundreds of thousands of homes could be plunged into darkness as our power network is targeted over the winter months.
Audacious raids this year have seen thieves slice through anti-climb guards and scale 30ft pylons to cut overhead lines carrying 132,000 volts.National Grid recently reported for the first time the theft of an earth wire from one of the larger pylons, carrying a 275,000-volt power line.
BT say stolen telephone wire has accounted for more than 220 arrests so far this year.
And theft of rail cable has caused 16,000 hours of passenger delays in three years.
British Transport Police have called metal thefts their “biggest challenge after counterterrorism”, with 10,000 such crimes a month across the network.
It causes horrendous problems on the rail network, with severe delays and cancellation.
Theft of signalling cable has caused 16,000 hours of passenger hold-ups in three years.
A single copper cable stolen from the rail network could net a thief around £50 – but can disrupt hundreds of trains and costs tens of thousands to repair.
Last week it emerged former Gurkhas were patrolling railways to stop thieves stealing tracks and cables in the north.
British Transport Police deputy chief constable Paul Crowther said: “A white van man can turn up with copper cables in the back of his van and walk away with six, seven or £8,000 in cash with almost no questions asked.”