The fight against metal thieves stepped up a gear in Hertfordshire last week (5 –12 September 2016) after the Constabulary and heritage experts joined together to carry out a coordinated enforcement action as part of Operation Crucible.
Operation Crucible saw police from across the country – including Hertfordshire, British Transport Police (BTP), Leicestershire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Northamptonshire and the Metropolitan Police – join experts from Historic England, the government service that champions England’s heritage, carry out checks on scrap metal dealers in their local areas.
They were checking for a range of illegal activity including:
• Theft and handling of stolen scrap metal
• Operating without a licence or outside of their licence
• Buyers making cash payments or sellers taking cash payments in exchange for scrap metal.
In Hertfordshire operations took place throughout the county in East Herts, St Albans, Watford and Hertmere (results by location are at the end of the press release).
The role of experts from Historic England was to help police colleagues identify metal that may have been stolen from protected heritage sites and buildings, including lead stolen from church roofs, in an attempt to help police clamp down on illegal cash trading in scrap and stolen metal.
The operation was coordinated by BTP, Hertfordshire Constabulary and Historic England. BTP’s Chief Constable Paul Crowther is the national policing lead for tackling heritage and cultural property crime, having taken over last month from now-retired Hertfordshire Constabulary Chief Constable Andy Bliss. He has also been the national policing lead for tackling metal theft since 2012.
New laws came into force in October 2013, tightening up scrap metal dealers’ record-keeping requirements, banning cash payments in exchange for scrap metal and making it harder for thieves to dispose of stolen metal.
Checks were carried out by several police forces, including BTP, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Suffolk and the Metropolitan Police. They were also joined by colleagues from the UK Border Agency, local authorities, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards.
BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther said: “Most scrap metal dealers operate law-abiding businesses. However, we believe there is a minority who continue to flout the law on cashless trading and still pay cash in exchange for scrap metal. This means that law-abiding scrap metal dealers are disadvantaged and the actions of a minority give the industry a bad name.
“Paying or taking cash in exchange for scrap metal has to stop. We are working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence. We will take action to ensure they comply with the law or go out of business. We won’t hesitate to take action against people who accept cash payments.
“Our message to criminals who are stealing metal from historic buildings, selling it on and, in the process, devastating communities, is simple. ‘We are coming for you. We’re making it harder for you to sell stolen metal. We are making it harder for you to gain from your activities. We will bring you to justice.’”
Welcoming the development of Operation Crucible, Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Adviser for Historic England said: “The value of England’s heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.
“Heritage crime comes in many forms. When thieves steal metal from protected sites and buildings such as churches, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.
“By working together with law enforcement agencies, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our shared cultural heritage.”
Sergeant Jamie Bartlett of Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Rural Operational Support Team said: “This week has proved how effectively the police and partner agencies can work together, sharing knowledge and experience and raising awareness around the issues faced with heritage crime and metal theft. We were really pleased to be able to roll out Operation Crucible to areas of Hertfordshire which yielded some positive results and has helped us to tackle some of the causes of heritage crime and metal theft. Our thanks go to Historic England for their specialist knowledge in this area and assistance they have provided both in the build-up and during the week itself.”
Operation Crucible is supported by British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the trade body for scrap metal dealers, and the Church Buildings Council (CBC), which supports over 16,000 cathedral and church buildings of The Church of England.
Operations in Hertfordshire took place in St Albans, East Herts and Hertsmere.
Police officers from Bishop’s Stortford Safer Neighbourhood Team checked 346 passing vehicles on Tuesday, September 9 between 8.30am until 3pm at the grounds of Bishop’s Stortford football club. They were joined by the Road Policing Unit, East Herts District Council’s waste carrier and taxi check officers, Trading Standards, HMRC Fuel Testing and Hidden Economy Teams and Historic England.
The results of the operation included:
- One vehicle seized as the driver had no insurance.
- Twelve Traffic Offence Reports (TORs) were given to drivers for a number of offences including having no MOT and incorrect licences.
- Nine Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme (VDRS) notices for offences including carrying unsecure loads, illegal tinting of windows and driving with unsafe tyres.
- HMRC’s Fuel testing team checked 40 vehicles for suspected red diesel theft and their Hidden Economy team interviewed 54 people about their employment status and the benefits they were receiving. Twenty of these cases will require further investigation.
In Stapleford, police officers from Hertford Police Station’s Operational Support group visited a scrap metal dealer found to be operating without a valid licence. As a result a man was arrested in connection with not having the correct licence to run a scrap metal dealer. He was later cautioned.
In Hertsmere, officers from Hemel Hempstead Safer Neighbourhood Team, the Operational Support Group and Environmental Officers from Hertsmere Borough Council visited a scrap metal dealer in Aldenham, near Watford. Further investigations into metal railway signalling cable found at the site are on-going.
Police in Hertsmere and St Albans held a joint operation at in Harper Lane, St Albans between 12pm and 2.30pm on Friday September 9. Police officers and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) from St Albans and Hertsmere Safer Neighbourhood Team, the Constabulary’s Rural Operational Support Team (ROST) and the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Policing Unit assisted the operation alongside Environmental Health Officers from St Albans and Hertsmere District Councils, Trading Standards and a scrap metal expert.
As part of the operation, the teams were looking over vehicles involved in the haulage of waste and scrap metal. A total of 42 vehicles were checked to ensure they were carrying the relevant waste carrier and scrap metal licences and that no traffic offences were being committed.
The results of the operation included:
- One vehicle seized as the driver had no licence or insurance
- A Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme (VDRS) was given for a defective tyre.
- Two verbal warnings were given to people driving vehicles that needed to get more minor defects addressed as soon as possible.
Trading Standards spoke to each of the drivers and offered them advice if needed and Environmental officers checked waste licences of vehicles and also gave drivers advice.
Over the weekend (Saturday, September 10 and Sunday, September 11) police officers from St Albans Safer Neighbourhood Team attended the heritage sites of St Albans Clock Tower, St Albans Abbey and the Verulamium Museum to sign people up to Heritage Watch. A total of 34 people were signed up to the scheme.
Heritage Watch is a scheme which aims to protect the county’s thousands of historical sites, monuments and artefacts from heritage and cultural property crime. Through the scheme, the Constabulary hopes to further protect the county’s historical artefacts and heritage sites by improving communication between people who live near these sites, those who have an interest in the county’s heritage and the police.
The public can sign up to become members of Heritage Watch via the Constabulary’s web pages: www.herts.police.uk/HeritageWatch. Members will receive regular updates about issues or crimes at heritage sites in their local areas. They will also be signed up to Neighbourhood Watch’s OWL (Online Watch Link) system which will keep them up to date with crimes and police events happening close to where they live.