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Scrap industry chief attacks 'last resort policing'

A metal recycling industry leader has condemned “unacceptable posturing” by police as anger grows against the tactics used in the battle against metal theft.

Ian Hetherington, chief executive of the British Metals Recycling Association, told MRW this week that much of the police action searching for stolen metal was “lacking in direction”.

He said: “Much of it is based on misguided ideas about what the metal recycling industry really does and how it operates, and shows a fundamental lack of understanding about key sources of intelligence and evidence.”

Several scrap dealers told MRW last week that legitimate traders were being treated in a heavy handed manner by police desperate to satisfy the political and public outcry over metal theft.

Hetherington said he was aware of merchants being arrested and released without charge without the police having inspected the mandatory record book that records deliveries and waste transfer notes.

“Frequently we discover raids have taken place, arrests have been made, only [for those arrested] to be released without charge, and none of the records has been inspected, which we find bizarre.”

He blamed the alleged activities on what he saw as a lack of proper training for officers, as well as political pressure on police to act.

“There is far too much posturing in front of the camera”, he added. “We find it wholly unacceptable that there are raids conducted in the deliberate full glare of the media. It smacks of last-resort policing and not a genuine attempt to catch criminals.”

He said the actions of police were creating the “worst of all worlds” with the scrap trade portrayed in an “unjustifiably bad light” while metal theft was not taken.  

He said the BMRA intervened to help its members on a daily basis with senior police and on the ground when businesses were raided.

Hetherington said he understood why some members on the front line, with their businesses under threat from a possible cash-ban, felt frustrated that the body was not doing enough to help them.

But he said: “We are representing their interests in the best way we can, to get the least worst deal for them from government. But we have to deal with political reality. We cannot pretend to our members that we can reverse the Government’s decision on banning cash.”

Mark Schofield, director of scrap merchant JB Schofield in Huddersfield, who is not a BMRA member, said: “Ian Hetherington is exactly right about the policing.”

He added: “I don’t doubt his members have been giving him some grief recently. But Ian’s between a rock and a hard place because he’s had to accept the political reality that there’s no way to change the government’s mind on the cash ban. That’s accepting something I don’t think I would have accepted in his position.”

A spokesman for British Transport Police, which leads nationally on metal theft, said in response to last week’s comments by merchants: “Scrap yard checks are just one element of the work undertaken to target metal theft.

“Checks are conducted by both British Transport Police and Home Office colleagues, in partnership with other agencies, to ensure all dealers are complying with legislation.”


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