Police and heritage experts coordinate action against metal thieves for first time
The fight against metal thieves stepped up a gear this week (5 – 9 September 2016) after police and heritage experts joined together for the first time to carry out coordinated enforcement action.
Operation Crucible saw police from across the country, joined by experts from Historic England, carry out checks on scrap metal dealers. They were checking for a range of illegal activity including:
Theft and handling of stolen scrap metal
Operating without a licence or outside of their licence
Buyers making cash payments or sellers taking cash payments in exchange for scrap metal
This week, checks were carried out by several police forces, including BTP, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Metropolitan Police Service, Essex and Cambridgeshire. They were also joined by colleagues from UK Border Agency, local authorities, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Heritage Crime, Chief Constable Paul Crowther said:
“Most scrap metal dealers operate law-abiding businesses. However, we believe there are a minority who continue to flout the law on cashless trading and still pay cash in exchange for scrap metal. This means that legitimate scrap metal dealers are disadvantaged and the actions of a minority give the industry a bad name.
“Paying or taking cash in exchange for scrap metal has to stop. We are working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence. We will take action to ensure they comply with the law and we won’t hesitate to take action against people who accept cash payments.
“Our message to criminals who are stealing metal from historic buildings, selling it on and, in the process, devastating communities, is simple. ‘We’re making it harder for you to sell stolen metal and gain from your activities. We will bring you to justice.’”
Welcoming the development of Operation Crucible, Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Adviser for Historic England, said:
“The value of England’s heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.
“Heritage crime comes in many forms. When thieves steal metal from protected sites and buildings such as churches, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.
“By working together with law enforcement agencies, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our shared cultural heritage.”
Operation Crucible is supported by British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the trade body for scrap metal dealers, and the Church Buildings Council (CBC), which supports over 16,000 cathedral and church buildings of The Church of England.
Robert Fell, BMRA’s Chief Executive, said:
“We have been pleased to support Operation Crucible and welcome the increased focus on cash-paying yards, which will make it hard for criminals to dispose of any stolen metal.
“We hope that a move to consider the legality of both sides of the transaction will act as a real deterrent and reduce the incidence of cash transactions markedly.”
Dr David Knight, Senior Conservation Officer, from CBC, said:
“Theft of lead from church roofs and metal theft from monuments and war memorials in churches is a persistent problem that has become increasingly organised and professional in the past year.
“The impact of this crime on volunteers who look after our church buildings, the communities they serve and our many heritage buildings is immense. The Church of England welcomes Operation Crucible”.
The operation culminates with a conference in Leicestershire today (Friday 9 September), hosted by Historic England and Leicestershire Police, focusing on metal theft from historic buildings, in particular churches.
While Operation Crucible focused activity in England and Wales, last week, from 1 September, a range of law enforcement and other agencies began to enforce a law change in Scotland banning the use of cash when buying or selling scrap metals and tightening regulations on scrap metal dealers’ record-keeping.
NOTES TO EDITORS
The role of experts from Historic England, the government service that champions England’s heritage, was to help police colleagues identify metal that may have been stolen from protected heritage sites and buildings, including lead stolen from church roofs, in an attempt to help police clamp down on illegal cash trading in scrap and stolen metal.
Examples of recent cases
In March 2016, a man was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after he was involved in stealing lead from two church roofs in Norfolk. The total cost of repairing the damage and replacing the lead was more than £47,000. This was the first conviction following the publication of new sentencing guidelines for theft offences, which now include the theft and handling of stolen heritage assets.
In July 2016, two men who conspired to steal large quantities of railway cable were handed suspended prison sentences. The pair – a railway construction manager and the owner of a scrap metal dealership – stole almost 8.5 tonnes of cable in three months, which was sold on for thousands of pounds. Their conviction followed a three-month investigation by British Transport Police, initiated after suspicions were raised when one of the men received a fixed penalty notice for driving a truck with an overweight load.
Operation Crucible – activity carried out between 5 and 7 September 2016
BTP visited and checked 31 scrap metal dealers across northern and eastern England, the Midlands, the south east and Wales. Five were given words of advice on their record-keeping.
In a joint operation between BTP, Gwent Police and HMRC, on 6 and 7 September 2016 in the Gwent area, 34 mobile scrap metal collectors were stopped. One driver was reported to the local authority for failure to carry the correct paperwork. Another man was arrested after he was found to be wanted for failure to pay a court fine.
An operation on Tuesday 6 September in Hertfordshire, coordinated by Hertfordshire Police with Historic England, HMRC, Trading Standards, VOSA and local authorities, resulted in 346 vehicles being checked. One was seized for having no insurance. HMRC carried out fuel tests on 40 vehicles.