Operation Tornado will be spearheaded by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) along with a number of key stakeholders including the Home Office, British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) and British Transport Police (BTP).

The trial will aim to make it easier to trace sellers of stolen metal through an identification scheme. Under the scheme, participating dealers in Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland will be required to provide proof of their identity – so far, 80% of scrap metal merchants in the region have signed up to be involved.

The pilot was launched by crime prevention minister Lord Henley last Friday (January 6) who said: “Metal theft is a serious and growing national and international problem and the Government is working across departments, with law enforcement agencies and private industry on co-ordinated action to tackle it.

“It is clear legislation dating back to the 1960s is not sufficient to deal with an increasingly organised crime and we are examining what changes to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 are needed.

“In the meantime we are working with the police and other law enforcement agencies on what immediate steps can be taken to better identify rogue metal dealers.”

Measures that will be taken under the pilot scheme include a robust licensing regime with clear requirements on scrap dealers to take steps to reduce the risk that stolen materials are purchased or received.

Dealers will have to pay a licence fee in order to give local authorities greater funds to facilitate regulation of the licence, and police powers will be extended to close down dealer operations if necessary.

The BMRA’s director general Ian Hetherington said that the association’s members would actively support the initiative, which he hoped would “provide the basis for a reform of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act.”

He added: “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.

“This is an opportunity for the metals recycling industry to trial some of the strengthened measures being adopted coupled with what we hope will be robust police efforts to prevent legitimate business being diverted away from those applying the Operation Tornado measures and into the hands of non-compliant operators.”

The rising price of copper has seen a surge in metal theft as criminals diversify and target metal from new sources such as power cables, utilities pipe work, telecommunications cabling, residential properties, businesses and catalytic converters from vehicles.

Maxine Perella

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