Last updated at 15:49, Saturday, 25 February 2012
THERE is an epidemic sweeping the country and people in South Cumbria are suffering.
In a time when many are strapped for cash and the price of metal has risen, cash hungry metal thieves are picking the country clean of anything they can steal.
Garden furniture, machine components, tools and roofing tiles are only some of the targets, in what is far from a victimless crime.
“It’s a growing problem in Cumbria. It is a very lucrative crime and, in many cases, it’s a very organised crime,” stated Detective Chief Inspector Bob Qazi, who is leading Cumbria police’s fight against metal theft.
“The impact of metal theft could be from something that is relatively minor, like the theft from a roof that is really inconvenient, right through to crimes that damage the infrastructure of the county,” he said.
Cumbria has been affected by crimes at both ends of the scale in the last six months, where the organisation DCI Qazi refers to has been evident.
About £30,000 of copper components were stolen from Handmark Engineering, in Barrow, when thieves climbed 12ft up a wall, punched a hole into a warehouse, broke open an internal door and made off with the metal.
St Peter’s Church, in Field Broughton, near Grange, had £6,500 of lead stolen in November, when thieves stripped and shipped 30 square metres from its roof in one night.
This was the second time the church had been hit in a year, putting pressure on its limited coffers.
In December, last year, thieves disrupted phone and world wide web connections in Barrow and Bootle when they damaged fibre optic cable in an attempt to steal copper telephone cables near Workington.
“That’s when you are potentially putting people’s lives at risk, because they can’t contact the emergency services if they need to. Not everybody has a mobile phone,” stated DCI Qazi.
St Peter’s Church warden, John Hibbert, stated he had given up hope of anyone being caught.
Instead the roof tiles had been replaced with stainless steel and clay to try and ward off further thefts. The church is welcoming moves by the government to outlaw cash payments at scrap yards.
“I think scrap yards can definitely be more helpful. It’s just so simple for the thieves to sell it. I think it needs to be made a tiny bit more difficult for them,” stated Mr Hibbert.
The move also has the support of Barrow and Furness Labour MP John Woodcock, who is calling for the law to go evening further.
He said: “Banning cash transactions in itself will not solve the problem, for while legitimate scrap yards will go cashless, some yards may continue to take cash and operate a black market.
“Labour is calling for tougher powers for the police to close these rogue traders down. Currently the police can’t enter a yard and close it down, so the government’s plan won’t achieve what it is setting out to do.”
In Barrow, PC Trevor Jones, of the Area Intelligence Unit, works with local scrap yards to keep on top of the problem. He states information from dealers has helped to seize suspect metal in the past.
A typical visit to Mark Gelling’s K and M Recycling, in Schneider Road, involves an inspection of his books and a discussion about who has been offering to sell what.
Mr Gelling states stolen metal simply creates a problem for legitimate merchants.
He has been holding onto about £500 of stolen metal for the last 12 months, which he can’t shift.
“That’s a lot of money tied up that I can’t use,” stated Mr Gelling.
Although he had CCTV surveillance equipment and recorded the names and number plates of vendors, not all traders were so rigorous.
“Every town has one. There will always be a rogue trader, whatever business you are in,” he said.
Having a good relationship with local scrap yards is a key weapon to combating the thieves, states PC Jones.
“We are trying to set up a two-way street. They are not police informants. Theirs is a business operating with property which is part of a certain information chain. We might be able to tell them something, they could tell us something. At the end of the day, it might be their own metal that is being stolen.”
The nature of the problem means police work closely with the Environment Agency and Department of Work and Pensions.
People looking to make a quick buck from stolen metal are surprisingly likely to turn out to be benefit cheats and, as the permit issuer for scrap yards and waster carriers, the Environment Agency has a lot of useful information to share with police.
But as the majority of metal thefts involved small items from sheds and homes, DCI Qazi states a major weapon in the fight is for people to follow basic security advice.
“People need to be vigilant about their own property. Bicycles, anything that is metal on their premises and in sheds and backyards, be aware they are magnets for thieves,” he said.
“When people see vehicles carrying old bikes or metal, it could be nothing, but it is better we know so give us a call. It could be you tomorrow who has some lead flashing stolen from your gate.”
First published at 10:41, Saturday, 25 February 2012
Published by http://www.nwemail.co.uk
Submited at Sunday, February 26th, 2012 at 12:00 pm on Uncategorized by samantha
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