POLICE officers swooped on a weighbridge in a bid to stop rogue scrap metal dealers having a “colossal impact on communities”.
Officers from Cleveland and Durham police forces were at the Wellfield Weighbridge, on the junction of the A19 and the A181 at Wingate, yesterday in a crackdown on theft and the handling of scrap metal.
The aim was to disrupt the activities of the thieves and deter scrapyard and recycling sites from handling material they believe may have been stolen.
The clampdown took place in a bid to tackle the growing number of metal thefts as the global price of metal has rocketed.
Inspector Ed Turner, of the Durham/Cleveland joint specialist operations unit, said: “Metal theft is a huge issue.
“It accounts for eight per cent of all crime in the Durham area alone and 23 per cent of acquisitive crime is metal-theft related.
“We encourage people to report anything suspicious, even if it looks legitimate and they aren’t quite sure.
“The impact it has on communities is colossal.
“Thieves can take a strip of lead off a community building and might only get £50 for it.
“But that’s tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage it has in terms of a big impact on the community.”
In addition to the police presence at the weighbridge, which was designated a Cleveland/Durham Police checkpoint, officers also visited local scrapyards and dealers.
More than 50 scrapyards were examined across the region as police checked out the legitimacy of vehicle loads.
The campaign, called Operation Hansel, also involved colleagues from Northumbria Police and British Transport Police in a region-wide day of action.
Vehicles suspected to have been used by those dealing in stolen metal were pulled over to the side of the road and inspected for any scrap metal being present.
Police and officials from VOSA (Vehicle Operators Standards Agency) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) also checked vehicles’ road safety and insurance, and looked to see if any were using illegal red diesel.
By yesterday lunchtime at Wellfield, a number of prohibition orders had been placed on those suspected to have been using the suspicious fuel, and a number were seized for no insurance.
The Mail has reported previously that Hartlepool was being “systematically” pulled apart by thieves with manhole covers, live electric cables and gas metres among a host of essential items being stolen.
And yesterday, Detective Inspector Lyn Peart, of Peterlee CID, revealed scrap metal thieves were even resorting to taking child’s bikes and swings from gardens in a bid to cash in.