POLICE officers targeted scrap dealers as they took to the streets in a crackdown on metal thefts.
Officers spent yesterday searching scrapyards across South Yorkshire looking for stolen metal and reminding businesses of new laws now banning all cash transactions.
From this week, anyone wanting to weigh in scrap metal can no longer be paid ‘cash in hand, no questions asked’ and instead will have to be paid by cheque or electronically – in a move aimed at keeping a better audit trail on where metal is coming from.
Changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have seen the upper limit of fines removed for scrap metal recyclers found breaking the law or breaching the conditions of their licenses.
Supt Tim Innes, the lead officer from South Yorkshire Police on metal theft, said yesterday: “This is one of the tools we now have for traceability of stolen metal. Using a cashless system will be a great asset to us to identify customers after we have traced suspect metal to a scrapyard.
Metal thieves have plagued communities across South Yorkshire over recent years, with criminals stealing anything from cables, to lead flashing, garden gates and drain covers.
In July, art deco-style handrails were stolen from the front of Sheffield’s Central Library, while, in October, brass pipes were stolen from the Barker’s Pool fountains in the city centre. Rail passengers have also endured lengthy delay, following the repeated thefts of signalling cable.
Mr Innes said: “It’s important to remember theft of metal is not just about the financial loss to the owners, it’s also about the impact on communities who have their power or phones knocked out and it is a dangerous crime because of the risk to people from such things as dangling power lines.
“I support any pressure which regulates the industry and we will be out checking all accredited scrap dealers in South Yorkshire.
“This is a significant police operation, with 200 officers involved across the county along with the Environment Agency and HM Revenue and Customs, and we will also be seeking out the itinerant mobile scrap dealers.”
He said metal theft had decreased by 30 per cent since the system of sellers providing photographic ID was introduced on a voluntary basis by scrapyards.
Mr Innes said: “I would hope it would go down even further as a result of the new law.”
Five scrap yards across Sheffield were targeted in yesterday’s day of action, forming part of Operation Impact, which aims to disrupt this kind of theft in the region for good.
“We have a relationship with these scrapyard owners and our patrols have been met with no resistance whatsoever,” said Insp Jason Booth, of Sheffield Safer Neighbourhoods.
“We’re simply checking that everything is in order and that people are complying with the new standards on this - the first day of cashless transaction in the region.
“Everything has gone very smoothly and no red flags have been raised at any of the yards.”
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther, of British Transport Police, said: “Despite recent reductions in offending, metal theft remains a serious threat to the infrastructure of Great Britain and we will only make a real difference if we continue to take positive action in conjunction with strengthened legislation.
“For several years, metal thieves and unscrupulous metal recyclers have exploited outdated legislation to make profit from criminal activity. This stops now.
“Changes to the LASPO Act have outlawed all cash transactions at metal recycling yards across England and Wales and there has been a significant increase in fines for those dealers who fail to abide by the rules.
“These measures will seriously curtail the market for stolen metal, as there will now be a clear audit trail back to those bringing commodities into recycling yards and severe sanctions for those who step out of line.
“The step forward in legislation is welcome and significant, but will not work in isolation.
“Industry, police and other agencies must continue to work together to enforce the new legislation, support further modernisation of the law and take action against those criminals who continue to target the very infrastructure we have all come to rely upon.”
In addition to visits to scrapyards yesterday, police targeted vehicles suspected of moving stolen metal across the county.