TOUGH new measures to stop thieves cashing in on stolen metal are set to be launched next week.
Moves to tackle the targeting of homes and businesses are being stepped up in a bid to stop crooks damaging buildings, delaying trains and putting lives in danger by tampering with gas and electric piping across Hartlepool and east Durham.
Cleveland and Durham police are now taking part in Operation Tornado, which will see those selling metal at scrap dealers made to provide proof of identity backed up with a utility bill.
Police chiefs hope all of the 240 scrap metal dealers in the North East back the six-month trial that starts on January 3.
The scheme is a joint venture also involving the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), the Home Office, British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) and British Transport Police (BTP).
Chief Inspector Robin Edwards, spokesman for Acpo, said: “It is one of a number of measures that are currently being explored to restrict the sale and movement of stolen metal.
“It has been designed not to inhibit those dealers that operate legitimate businesses, but to remove unscrupulous dealers who operate outside the law.”
He added that legislation dealing with metal theft dated back to 1964 and needed redrafting.
Home Office minister Lord Henley 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.”
Acpo estimates that metal theft costs the UK economy £1bn a year.
Under the new scheme, sellers of scrap metal will have to produce either a photocard driving licence, or a passport or national ID card, as well as a utility bill less than three months old.
Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon, of Hartlepool Police, is supporting the scheme that will support a number of innovative operations that have taken place in Hartlepool.
Officers have been based on each gate of the town’s scrap yards questioning those selling items and have also been carrying out covert operations at night to catch criminals red handed.
Supt Gudgeon added only the “unscrupulous thieves and handlers” will be affected by the new system and operations, and legitimate sellers have nothing to fear.