The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has issued a "hands off " warning to beer keg thieves.

The warning comes after 12 men were last week committed to the Crown Court over allegations of a GBP9m (US$14.8m) beer keg theft conspiracy.

The charges relate to the theft and destruction of stainless steel and aluminium kegs by companies and individuals engaged in the scrap metal industry in the West Midlands.

Mark Hastings, communications director at the BBPA, said beer keg theft impacts every part of the beer supply chain from breweries, wholesalers and pubs down to price of a pint at the bar.

"Hopefully, Operation Steel will send out a clear message that the British beer and pub industry is united in its efforts to work with police authorities to successfully prosecute keg thieves and that brewers will not hesitate to pursue civil claims against offenders to recover damages in respect of keg losses."

Hastings added: "In parallel with the ongoing criminal prosecution, S&N UK, Carlsberg, Diageo UK, Molson Coors and Inbev UK have served civil claims and have obtained civil injunctions against the defendants and their associated companies and will seek to recover financial losses from both the companies and the individuals involved in the case."

According to West Midlands Police, metal beer kegs have been seen as an easy target "for too long" and the force said it is now working closely with UK brewers and pubs to address a problem that is costing the industry "millions of pounds every year".