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Metal theft round-up

A round-up of the political situation around a possible change to the law on scrap metal dealing, and meanwhile new rules coming into force around more of the country with an aim to deter sale of stolen metal. The West Midlands region has become the latest to adopt the national scheme for scrap metal dealers – Operation Tornado.

The aim is to crack down on metal theft nationwide, by giving thieves nowhere to get rid of their stolen wares. In some cases, thefts have closed schools, seen memorials defaced and phone and internet access cut to neighbourhoods.

The scheme is voluntary. Police say that most traders across the region will be participating in the scheme, which means that anyone who wants to sell metal to participating dealers in the Midlands will now be required to provide proof of their identity. Acceptable ID will be a photo driving licence, passport or national identity card – which must show an address – supported by a utility bill less than three months old.

A new Midlands region metal theft taskforce, which sits within West Midlands Force CID, works with lead officers from West Mercia, Staffordshire and Warwickshire areas to further reduce crime. The four forces have been granted £75,000 directly from the Home office project to target metal theft policing operations.

Since the start of 2012 metal theft offences have been halved across the West Midlands. Operation Steel has been running throughout the region for more than two years, with dedicated officers working to buck the national trend of spiralling numbers of metal thefts.

The operation has seen officers working as part of dedicated metal theft teams, targeted uniformed patrols, DNA property marking and tighter controls for scrap metal traders.

Detective Inspector Gordon Roberts, who leads the new team, said: “Our main aim is to share the good work already being done as part of our drive to specifically target offenders committing large-scale crimes.
“We shall be driving the regional response to metal theft via Operation Tornado and making sure that scrap dealers throughout the area are complying with the rules.

“In the past we have seen criminals travelling hundreds of miles, across several police boundaries, to sell on what they have stolen because they know that some forces have been tough on cracking down on scrap metal dealers.

“Operation Tornado will get rid of that trend, as the whole country will be coming on board to make sure traders up and down the UK are all following the same rules and regulations when it comes to ID.

“We know that in the West Midlands we have been robust in ensuring our traders are acting within the law, and their customers are taking note. In one case a convicted illegal trader closed up his yard and hung a sign on the gates to say he’d closed because of police.

“We are determined to ensure that the market for thieves to sell on the property dries up, and that legal traders can continue with their business in peace.”

The scheme was developed with the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Home Office, and was piloted in the North East earlier this year. DI Roberts added: “Any scheme that sees such positive results should become normal business for every force and here in the West Midlands that is exactly what is happening.

“In the areas where scrap yards are most common, mainly in the Black Country, the local police teams are visiting their businesses every other day. Whilst this might sound a lot, particularly to legitimate business owners, we have to act to stop people from becoming victims of this crime.

“Metal theft affects all walks of life, from the homeowner through to major industry and it is important that we continue to see fewer victims. When monuments and war memorials are hit that does hit on the heartstrings of the public. I think the tolerance is now gone and hopefully we can catch them.

“We will be working with dealers to enforce this code of conduct until legislation kicks in later in the year. We want to work with them to professionalise the industry and target the people who are dealing in criminal acquisition of property.”

Ian Hetherington, director general at the British Metals Recycling Association, said Operation Tornado might be voluntary but that did not stop it being effective. “In the north-east, after Tornado had been operating for about two months, all but about four yards had signed up to this. If they don’t join and don’t join willingly, the police will make their presence felt.”

The legislation is the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill, introduced by Richard Ottaway MP, had its first reading in the House of Commons in November 2011 and in September entered the committee stage. The bill aims to:

Introduce a licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers;
enable magistrates’ courts to add restrictions to licences to deal in scrap metal; to require that financial transactions in trade in scrap metals be restricted to cashless payments;
give police officers powers to search properties owned by scrap
metal dealerships;
provide that scrap metal proven to have been obtained through theft may be classified as criminal assets;
introduce criminal charges for theft of scrap metal which take into account aspects of the crime other than the value of the scrap metal stolen;

The full bill can be found on the UK Parliament website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2010-2012/0249/cbill_2010-20120249_en_2.htm

Commenting in mid-September, Corin Taylor, Senior Economic Adviser at the business body the Institute of Directors, said: “Scrap metal theft has led to the desecration of countless war memorials and churches, caused misery for commuters on key rail lines, and cost businesses untold amounts when staff can’t get into work. Well-designed legislation to crack down on dealers who buy stolen metal will help to tackle this problem without penalising honest traders.”

Meanwhile Greater Manchester Police raided 49 scrap metal dealers and recovered stolen metals at five of them on Monday, September 10.

More than 100 specialist and divisional officers as well as 21 Special Constables were involved in the ‘day of action’ planned under the force’s Operation Harvest. Recovered items included gas cylinders, beer kegs and metal cages. Officers were supported in identifying stolen metals by engineers from telecoms, transport and utility companies.

Supt Craig Thompson who led the day of action said: “Through Operation Harvest we are targeting the criminals that are hurting the people of our county the most.

“More than half of metal thefts in Greater Manchester are from the homes of ordinary, often vulnerable people causing them physical and financial hardship that is particularly painful in the current financial climate.

“We have worked hard in the last year to substantially reduce metal thefts by targeting metal thieves in the scrap metal yards where they off load their ill-gotten gains, on the roads when they are transporting stolen metals and in the communities where they spread misery by stealing metals from people’s homes and community buildings.

“We will be maintaining this level of pressure and continuing to put these criminals behind bars. People can help by making their homes, businesses and community buildings less vulnerable to thieves by using security lights, fencing, alarms and good locks to keep thieves at bay.

“They can also help us by providing information about suspicious activity either directly to us on 101, the new single non-emergency number or anonymously through the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”


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