Police targeting metal thieves in Sussex

SUSSEX Police has cranked up the pressure on metal thieves by launching a major campaign to curb the crime.

Police are joining forces with scrap metal dealers at a time when there has been an increase in the theft of precious metals.

The most recent figures for Sussex show that there were 3,345 cases of metal theft in the county over three years until December last year. More than 80 per cent of the thefts were lead from buildings and 14 per cent of the metal stolen was copper. These figures do not include thefts from the rail network.

Now new measures to combat the increasing problem of metal theft are being introduced across Sussex and the region.

Operation Tornado is a national initiative aimed to make it easier to trace sellers of stolen metal and disrupt the activities of those dealers who operate illegal businesses.

Under the new scheme, individuals will be required to provide proof of their identity including their current address and a photograph when trying to sell scrap metals to dealers. The dealers will keep copies of all records for up to 12 months and make them available for inspection by police.

The operation was piloted by British Transport Police and several other forces in the North East earlier this year where there has been a significant drop in the levels of metal theft. It is now being rolled out across the country.

Over the past few weeks, local neighbourhood policing teams have visited all scrap metal dealers in Sussex, telling them about the scheme and encouraging them to sign up. Letters from the Association of Chief Police Officers about the scheme have also been sent to all scrap metal dealers. Those who do not wish to take part may be subject to increased attention from police and other enforcement agencies.

Inspector Martin Pattenden, the Sussex Police lead for the operation, said, “Operation Tornado is one of a number of measures currently being explored to restrict the sale and movement of stolen metal. It has been designed not to inhibit those dealers that operate legitimate businesses, but to remove unscrupulous dealers who operate outside the law.

“We are hoping all registered scrap metal dealers will sign up to be involved to help fight the stolen metal trade and make it more difficult for thieves to make money by targeting our communities for metal. Those who do not sign up may now begin to find that they are receiving more attention from law enforcement.”

Ian Hetherington, director general at the British Metals Recycling Association, said: “Metals theft is a real problem for the metals industry and BMRA continues to advise government on the issue. BMRA and our members are actively supporting Operation Tornado. The measures are sensible and provide the basis for a reform of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act which we all want.

“It’s important to note that many of the problems encountered by legitimate metal recyclers lie with the ineffective enforcement of existing regulations and the proliferation of the illegal, unregulated trade, and not with the majority who operate highly regulated, licensed and permitted sites.

“We fully support a nationally coordinated approach from the police and the Environment Agency with stronger sentencing and appropriate penalties for those stealing metal and those setting out to dispose of it.”

Metal thieves have caused misery for countless thousands of people across the country and the railway system in particular has experienced significant issues for some time, but throughout 2011 criminals have been diversifying and targeting metal from other areas, including power cables, utilities pipe work, telecommunications cabling, residential properties, businesses and catalytic converters from vehicles.

All affected industries are working together to tackle the problem, which is now a significant threat to the UK infrastructure. Whatever the crime, the net result is the same - disruption to everyday life and severe cost to the local and national economy.