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Police chief insists metal theft crackdown will benefit legitimate merchants

The police chief in charge of the clampdown on metal theft has insisted the campaign will benefit legitimate scrap dealers.

British Transport Police (BTP) detective superintendent John McBride told MRW that when the police had built up a clearer understanding of metal crime, they would be able to adopt a more hands-off approach towards the majority of merchants.

McBride, who heads the National Metal Theft Taskforce, was speaking exclusively to MRW in response to the magazine’s coverage of the effects of metal theft, and subsequent policing and legislative moves, on the industry.

He said he wanted to reassure MRW readers that “we are not just looking at them”. He insisted he understood “the industry and the challenges it faces” and did not want to interfere with legitimate business.

McBride outlined the Taskforce’s plans to develop a structured pattern of scrap metal dealer visits – one of its key objectives. He said he wanted police to work better and more closely with the Environment Agency’s regulatory inspection regime to better coordinate its “risk assessment process”.

He said police would use the roll-out of Operation Tornado to “better assess” scrap yards as dealers signed up to the voluntary photo-ID requirements.

These measures will benefit the industry, according to McBride. He said: “Clearly if we have a more accurate picture of the criminality and the points at which it touches the industry, then we’re able to flex from more light-touch inspection, to more intrusive; which I think a lot of the dealers in the north-east have welcomed as a result of Tornado.

“Legitimate dealers – the vast majority – will benefit from a lighter-touch regulation and inspection regime.”

He said Operation Tornado also made legitimate scrap dealers more likely to report local competitors operating outside the measures.

McBride said the authorities were focused on the whole supply chain from thieves, transporters and processors to hauliers, freight forwarders and shipping agents.

But he added that there were a “considerable minority” of metal recyclers involved in criminality that the Taskforce was focusing its attention on.

The National Metal Theft taskforce was announced by chancellor George Osborne in the 2011 Autumn Statement and launched with £5m of government funding.

MRW reported in February concerns that the taskforce would be a funding mechanism rather than a physical organisation, a move branded as a “a complete waste” by Labour MP Graham Jones.

McBride said BTP looked at several taskforce models, and found a physical taskforce would not be the most efficient way to spend the money.

Instead it is organised on a “federated” model, with a small central BTP team overseeing national days of action and assessing funding bids – alongside Government officials - and regional coordinators plugged into existing regional police metal theft teams.

Where the Taskforce money has been spent

Of the Taskforce’s £5m allocated funding, £3m has already been spent or committed.

Some of the initiatives it has committed to funding so far include: the Operation Tornado roll out; police and industry operations to protect critical national infrastructure; covert policing targeting scrap yards; policing of itinerant collectors; crime prevention initiatives with businesses; Olympics site planning; and national days of action targeting collectors and sellers of scrap metal.  

McBride said the money was having a positive impact on reducing crime, helped by “MRW readers’ open armed acceptance of Tornado”.

“There are a whole host of things in play here, not just the money,” he added. “But the money is undoubtedly helping.”

In response to concerns that its £5m budget was not enough for the job, McBride said the Taskforce was an interim measure while Government made legislative change.

He said there would be an assessment of the impact of the cash ban, Operation Tornado and other initiatives at the end of the financial year to decide whether to fund it for another year. But he added that the Taskforce funding would last until March 2013.

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