Police forces across the West have completed a week-long series of secret raids on scrap yards and waste tips as part of a major regional crackdown against the scourge of metal theft.
Stealing metal from schools, churches, roofs, farms, phone lines, gates and war memorials costs the West economy millions every year and an army of law enforcers, organisations and businesses got together this week from Swindon to Somerset to tackle the metal thief’s outlet of choice – scrap yards.
Scrap yards are being pressured to sign up to a strict code of conduct under which they will register every person they buy from and every purchase. Scrap yards that are reluctant to sign up have been visited several times already.
The co-ordinated week of raids across the South West, codenamed Tornado, also involving councils, the Environment Agency, tax inspectors and investigators from the likes of BT, Western Power and the Lead Sheet Association.
In Wiltshire, raids took place at yards in Christian Malford, near Chippenham, Melksham and Swindon – the third time this year it has been targeted.
Officers said a large amount of aluminium was seized from the raid at Christian Malford and an investigation is now under way to discover where it came from.
“There has been a steep increase in the value of metal in recent years which has gone hand in hand with a national rise in the theft of this valuable commodity,” explained Detective Sergeant James Neighbour, from Wiltshire Police. “This trend has been echoed in Wiltshire, where we have seen around a 50 per cent increase in reports of this sort of crime over the last few years. This type of crime can have a devastating affect not just on individuals but on communities as a whole.
“We recognise that many businesses that deal with scrap metal and metal reclamation have good practices in place to help prevent criminal activity,” he added.
In Somerset, four people were arrested as part of a series of raids led by the Environment Agency on waste sites and homes.
One arrest was made at the old airfield at Westonzoyland, while others were made at a second raid at a scrap yard near Glastonbury, which involved the police helicopter.
All four arrested have been released on police bail until February. “Waste crime is a serious problem, costing businesses, landowners and tax payers millions of pounds every year and causing significant harm. It also undermines legitimate waste businesses,” said a spokesman for the Environment Agency.
“By working in partnership with the police and local authorities, the Environment Agency can tackle the problem of waste crime more effectively It is also a more efficient use of resources,” he added.