According to the police the problem costs the economy an estimated £700m a year and causes the deaths of two offenders a week in the UK.

Copper power cables are among the thieves’ favourites, but police fear rising numbers of catalytic converters are being stolen from vehicles due to the lucrative platinum they contain, a crime expected to increase next year when the Low Emission Zone emissions standards become more stringent.

To tackle the problem the new, multi-agency Waste and Metal Theft Taskforce, which includes experts from BT and the London borough of Bexley’s environmental crime unit will also be based in Bexley – one of the boroughs most severely affected by metal theft due to its high number of scrap metal yards.

While electricity companies mark all their cables, and only certain yards are legally allowed to process them, illegal cables can be stole, taken to a yard and ground down in less than 20 minutes.

Some scrap metal yards, claim the police, invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in large ‘granulating’ machines to extract the copper from illegal metals.

This says the police can make the crime hard to identify and offers large profits for those willing to risk their lives.

Chief Superintendent, David Chinchen, said: “Our latest operation aimed to identify, disrupt and deter those involved in this illegal trade, and acted as an important intelligence-gathering exercise for future operations so that we can target those evading the law and those who supply them even more effectively.

“These crimes are covered by a complex range of laws, thus a multi-pronged approach is essential in order to tackle it robustly and we are already working closely with our partner agencies.

“Our officers will employ a wide range of robust tactics and we plan to run regular operations to crack down on those seeking to profit, and who end disrupting other’s lives and putting their own at risk.”

Luke Walsh

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