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You’re nicked

Police spot checks were introduced on vehicles delivering to scrap yards in Hartlepool last month, in an attempt to crack down on metal theft and check the legitimacy of goods entering yards. High scrap prices are making metal an attractive material to steal, and merchants are being called on to ensure their material is traceable and they adhere to a standard code of practice.

“There are companies out there buying stolen metal, though we are not one of them. The problem lies in the fact that other merchants don’t follow the procedures that companies like us do: we take the names, ID, licence plate number, and everything is recorded on CCTV,” says one scrap merchant, who did not want to be named.

In order to encourage more scrap merchants to carry out such procedures and deter crime, the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) in conjunction with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) published a joint code of practice for scrapyards last October (see box). The two organisations, as well as the British Transport Police (BTP), are part of a cross-sector Metal Theft Working Group, which also includes the rail industry and Government.

“The problem lies in the fact that other merchants don’t follow the procedures that companies like us do”

BMRA director general Ian Hetherington says the organisation is also “calling for changes in environmental regulations so it can focus on stamping out non-compliant or illegal operators that blight the industry”. BTP spokesman Glyn Hellam says the working group is looking at long-term ways of tackling metal theft, from enforcement to design and legislative changes. But in the short term, he recommends any suspicious behaviour should be reported immediately.

The BTP particularly advocates getting the details of anyone bringing in metal and seeing photo ID, which goes further than current legislation. Hellam adds that scrapyards should also double-check that people are from the organisations they claim to be from and stresses the importance of accurate records.

Any measures that offer opportunities to identify stolen goods are welcomed by the BTP. Such tools include SmartWater, a forensic liquid containing a unique code that can be read under UV light. This enables the police to prove that goods are stolen.

Its users include firms such as Network Rail and Severn Trent. Metal thefts from Network Rail sites reportedly cost the firm £35m in repair bills and fines since 2006. To check for such stolen goods, SmartWater scanners are increasingly being used at scrapyards to scan material coming in, and the company says it works to educate metal recyclers, with opportunities available through police days of action.

“Using the scanner, we recently caught someone that had brought some stolen metal into us and reported it to the police right away,” one merchant tells MRW. “Theft is becoming more prevalent, so everyone needs to keep on their toes because as the price of metal goes up, so does the theft.”


The BMRA and ACPO Metal Theft Working Group endorses and supports the following crime reduction measures:

  • The introduction of digital recording CCTV systems at the entrances and/or weighbridges of recycling centres that is retained for 28 days. Where such systems have been installed, posters advertising the fact will clearly be displayed on the premises.
  • Requesting identification from people disposing of metals who are not already known to the recycling centre. The identification requested to include name, address and post code. A record of the method of identification produced will be recorded including unique identifying reference number where applicable, ie driver number in the case of driving licence or customer number if utility bill or similar document produced. Cash should not be paid to persons unknown to the recycling centre or where identification cannot be produced.
  • The maintenance of accurate records required by the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. This will include ensuring that names, addresses and vehicle registration number are complete and accurate.
  • Suspicious persons and/or transactions will be reported to the local police force.


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