Police come down hard on illegal scrap trade

METAL thieves are costing Hampshire’s economy millions of pounds annually and the UK billions.

This week more than 40 police officers swooped on scrapyards in Romsey, Ports-mouth and Yateley to enforce the new Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act.

Metal was seized at undisclosed sites and police are now trying to establish whether the dealers’ transaction records comply with the new law.

Scrap metal traders now have to be licensed by their local authority and must ask for photographic ID from anyone taking materials into sites. Cash transactions are also now outlawed.

Wednesday’s raids came under the banner of Operation Tornado, which was launched in January, 2012, by Network Rail and British Transport Police, after metal thieves took more than £16m worth of trackside equipment across the UK the previous year, causing train delays totalling 365,265 minutes.

Romsey-based Inspector Jackie Willson, who leads Tornado in Hampshire, said the force was working with local authorities, BT, and the Environment Agency to enforce the new act.

“This type of enforcement action is ongoing and we will be visiting all of our scrap sites across the two counties in the weeks and months to come,” she said.

Insp Willson said there had been 1,821 crimes involving metal reported across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight last year, with rural areas worst affected. Copper and lead topped the thieves’ hit list.

In some cases, thieves are endangering lives by going onto electrified railway lines or breaking into electricity sub-stations to steal copper cabling, said Inspector Willson. Power companies reported 4,429 thefts of equipment in the first six months of 2011.

“It is estimated that the loss to the economy across the UK through metal thefts is £1 billion a year,” said Insp Willson.

She said there had been fall in metal crimes in Hampshire between April and October this year, with 460 reported, but it was still an on-going problem.

Catalytic converters and vehicle batteries are still popular with metal thieves and recently 100 batteries and other parts, worth more than £50,000, were stolen from new lorries parked on a storage site at Nursling.

Church and schools roofs have also been stripped of their lead and thieves have also made repeated raids on building sites, including Abbotswood, near Romsey.

Road safety has also been threatened as road signs have also been stolen in the Test Valley, most recently a level crossing sign on the B3084 near Mottisfont & Dunbridge Station.

Anyone with information regarding metal or cable crime should call Hampshire Constabulary, on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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