Just five scrap metal dealers across the country were caught by police breaking the cash ban in its first week, police have revealed.
Detective chief inspector Gill Murray of British Transport Police (BTP), which leads the national metal theft taskforce, told MRW: “The vast majority of metal recyclers across the country are adhering to the legislative changes with only five dealers across the country having to be spoken to during the operation for failure to properly abide by the new law.”
BTP said it had visited over 200 yards over the week of action and made just one arrest for failure to keep proper records and handling stolen goods, although local forces will have made additional visits.
The news will come as a relief to industry leaders anxious that widespread hostility and confusion around the cash ban, which came into force in England and Wales on 3 December, could lead to law breaking and negative publicity for the sector.
MRW revealed in November that 15% of dealers questioned had not begun preparing for the new regime, with 14% saying they would not be ready to go cashless in time for the ban.
Police, alongside other agencies, carried out operations across the country to remind scrap merchants of the law change, to take action against metal thieves, and to target criminals moving stolen metal around the country.
Detective chief inspector Murray said: “Of course, this operation was not simply about tackling the minority of rogue dealers, it was also about driving the message home to criminals that the UK and the recycling industry will no longer give thieves an easy ride.
She added: “The co-operation of metal recyclers and other industries during these operations is vital as it allows the police to unearth stolen metal and, in many cases, trace this back to its source and those responsible for removing it.”
“Through changes to the LASPO Act, and further proposed legislative reform, we are seeking to create an environment which drives people away from stealing metal and gives recyclers greater confidence in accepting metal from people coming to their yards.
“This process, will not be easy however and it is vital that we all work together to develop strategies and a legal framework that provides a means to deal with criminals without unduly punishing industry.”
Ian Hetherington, director general of the BMRA, said: “This is a challenging time for the metal recycling industry and it is vital that the new law covering the purchase of scrap metal is backed up by consistent and rigorous policing to support the work of the law abiding legal operators.
“It is essential that the LASPO Act is followed rapidly by the reformed Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which continues to make its way through the House of Lords, in order to give the regulatory framework needed to sustain a legitimate industry.”
Jon O’Brien who heads the independents’ Metal Recycling Collective (MRC), said police were only picking on the “easy targets” of licensed scrap yards and did not have the resources to catch unlicensed dealers breaking the law.
“As far as MRC is concerned the police are no help in trying to catch unlicenced scrap metal yards. Our members can have as many as three different police officers comming into their yard in a week, none of them knowing what to look for and that another policeman has already been in.”