North Devon incidents up by a third despite 20 per cent fall in reported crimes across Devon and Cornwall.

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SCRAP metal thefts in North Devon have risen by a third despite a 20 per cent fall in similar crimes for the whole of Devon and Cornwall.

From April to September, there were 95 metal thefts in the region compared with 72 for the same period the year before.

Crimes range from scrap yard raids to reports of stolen lead, beer kegs, cable and catalytic convertors.

Metal theft has increased nationally due to the global rise in metal prices and is now estimated to cost the UK approximately £1billion a year.

In May, Devon and Cornwall Police joined forces with other constabularies throughout the south of England to launch Operation Tornado in a bid to tackle the problem.

Detective Superintendent Paul Northcott, who is leading the operation for Devon and Cornwall Police, said it was ‘early days’ for the region in terms of the impact the initiative was having.

“Overall since the operation has been up and running we have seen a 20 per cent drop in crimes reported force-wide,” he said.

“But there is still a great deal of work to be done in the Devon area. The theft of metal presents an ongoing problem and can not only cause substantial financial loss for people but also be extremely dangerous in its consequences.

“The theft of power and communication cables can cause death and immense disruption to commercial and private properties.”

Det Supt Northcott also said that there had also been a rise in the theft of catalytic converters from vehicles in recent months.

He said: “Thieves are looking for the precious metals in the catalytic convertors. In North Devon there have been six cases in the last four months.”

As part of Operation Tornado, police have been working with commercial premises who receive and sell scrap metal, to review their working practices.

Many dealers now ask for proof of identity in the form of a passport or photo driving licence to help make it harder for thieves to dispose of stolen property.

“The measures that we have implemented will make it easier for us to identify and track down the offenders and prosecute them,” said Det Supt Northcott.

“We are determined to work constructively with the industry to prevent and disrupt these thefts and have had considerable support from reputable dealers.

“We will also be looking at identifying those businesses that are flouting legislation and will be taking positive action against them.”

In December, the trading regulations will be tightened further with the introduction of new government legislation to outlaw the sale of scrap metal for cash. The new cashless trading system will ensure those who sell scrap metal to dealers will be traceable via bank account transaction details.

“The new legislation complements the work currently on-going and most scrap yards have already taken on the principles of the legislation,” said Det Supt Northcott.

“It will help us close down disreputable dealers and provide us with the necessary intelligence to combat this type of offence.”

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