Hundreds of memorial plaques from churches and crematoriums, a statue of Christ and entire intact cross, a giant ornamental Oriental dragon statue and copper cabling were among a major haul of items seized by police in a raid on a south-west London scrap metal dealer’s yard in the latest Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) crack down on the illegal trade.
Around 150 intact memorial brass plaques with inscriptions commemorating the lives of loved ones, complete with stakes and plugs still attached from where they had been pulled out of the earth and ripped off walls respectively, were found, as well as numerous pieces of hundreds more plaques thrown into boxes nearby. Two metal cutting machines were found inside the premises.
“This represents a significant find in our ongoing efforts to target metal theft.”
Each plaque is estimated to be worth £50-100. As some had been marked with Smartwater – a liquid which gives the item a unique ‘code’ – police have already been able to identify at least 40 as having been stolen from a Beckenham crematorium. Inquiries to trace the origin of the other plaques continue.
The distinctive bronze dragon statue set in concrete and weighing around a tonne, worth around £3,500, was quickly identified by officers as having been listed on the MPS’ stolen arts database and its owners, a Teddington couple informed. They confirmed it was taken overnight from their home and is one of a pair.
Police also seized £20,000 in cash and copper cabling from the yard, where they executed a search warrant having received intelligence previously it was involved in the illicit trade. They were supported by officers from the Territorial Support Group (TSG) and specialist dogs’ officers to deal with two Rottweiler dogs at the premises, as well as BT and Smartwater officials.
The owner of the yard and another employee have now been charged in connection with the raid, and investigations continue.
The yard was one of number targeted in boroughs across London in the highly targeted two day operation on Monday and Tuesday, which saw a total of ten arrests, a significant number of stolen vehicles recovered, and fixed penalty notices issued for waste offences.
In Barnet a quick-thinking female member of the public’s action led to four metal suspected metal thieves being caught red-handed after she spotted them dragging around 450 metres of cable down a street and called 999. When officers arrived shortly afterwards they confirmed the men were not engaged on official business despite the fact they were wearing BT high visibility vests and produced apparent BT related job sheet documents and passes. The four were arrested and have now been bailed while investigations continue.
Over in Waltham Forest, police searching a local yard found three muddy vehicle index plates discarded in a nearby ditch when they arrived, all later identified to be from stolen vehicles which police believe were driven to the location and stripped for parts and scrap metal.
The operation this week was the fourth in a series of concentrated MPS crackdowns on metal theft – each lasting from several days up to two weeks – carried out by boroughs across the capital simultaneously since last autumn. Each time officers are aided by relevant experts from organizations such as Trading Standards, BT, the Environment Agency and Smartwater help identify any potential stolen metals, cables and items.
The last three operations took place in operation took place in October, December and March, and in total the four operations to date have seen a total number of almost 500 dealers inspected and searched, and resulted in 60 arrests, numerous stolen vehicles recovered, a significant number of scrap metal licences revoked. Arrests range from handling stolen goods, to fraud, illegal transportation as well as a range of other non metal theft crimes such as possession of class A drugs, immigration offences, and for driving whilst disqualified and with no insurance.
Recent MPS analysis of figures since the start of March this year show that there at least 100 metal theft related offences reported to police in the capital each week. Metal theft is estimated to cost at least £700 million a year to the economy and an increasing variety of objects are being targeted, from cable, drain covers, lift panels from housing estates and war and cemetery memorial plaques, to children’s playground slides, fire escape stairs and even English Heritage buildings.
Acting Inspector James Coomber, the operation coordinator, said: “This represents a significant find in our ongoing efforts to target metal theft. The majority of scrap metal dealers who are legitimate support our targeting of those acting outside of the law. Those contributing to the thriving illegal trade can expect regular operations to search, detect and arrest those profiting from it.
“We are focusing our resources on yards where intelligence leads us to believe they are taking in stolen metal, not recording items lawfully, and committing related offences. Metal theft is not a victimless crime and the public can play a vital part helping us by reporting anything suspicious to us.
“Don’t assume if you see workers in the street with cable that they are legitimate, even if they are in high visibility vests, and watch out for itinerant collectors who come door to door as we know a number of these are involved in domestic metal theft, for example lead from roofs of houses.
“If you have any information relating to metal theft you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, or 999 if you believe a crime is being committed in front of you. Otherwise you can report on the non-emergency 101 number.
“The crimes committed as part of this illegal trade are covered by a complex range of laws, thus a multi-pronged approach is essential in order to tackle it robustly and we will continue to work closely with our partner agencies to tackle it.”