Operation tackles metal thieves and illicit scrap processors

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ENVIRONMENT Agency officers and South Yorkshire Police have revealed the results of a week-long operation to target metal thieves and illegal scrap traders.

The agency said it had concentrated on sites in Rotherham including illegal vehicle breaking operations and scrapyards during the crackdown, which ended on Friday.

Officers were told to visit sites they suspected may have been breaking up vehicles without holding the relevant environmental permit from the Environment Agency.

Under legislation, any business that handles, processes or stores scrap needs an official permit so the agency can ensure it operates with minimal impact on the environment.

The agency said officers found evidence of illegal vehicle breaking taking place at two sites, and at one location this was causing significant oil pollution.

The site operator was told to stop activities until an environmental permit was in place. Waste was also being burnt on site, which is not allowed.

At another site, waste was also being stored without permission and when police officers checked the vehicles there, they discovered one was stolen, and as a result two people were arrested.

Senior officials from the Environment Agency claimed that the visits allowed them to find out if illegal activities were taking place as well as giving them the opportunity to collect vital evidence.

Officers will now decide on enforcement action for any offences, but said they also gave operators advice on how to operate legally.

The environment management team leader, Ben Hocking, said vehicle breakers that do not hold a permit can often overlook the environmental impact they may be having, allowing wastes like engine oil, brake fluid, and screen wash to escape from the site which can then cause pollution.

He added: “Working with the police allows us to reinforce our message at sites that have been causing problems.

“Operating a waste site without an environmental permit is illegal and sites that operate without proper regulation can also have an unfair competitive advantage over legitimate waste operators.

“We will continue to work with the police and other partners to try and reduce the scale of this problem, and we will share intelligence on other potential illegal sites.”

According to police, some vehicle breaking activity in the past has been linked to other illegal activities, including metal theft which they said was a growing problem affecting the whole the country, not just South Yorkshire.

Officers said metal theft has risen in recent years, fuelled by the high scrap metal prices particularly for lead and copper.

DCI Craig Robinson, who led the operation for South Yorkshire Police, said: “Metal theft is not just a problem for Rotherham, it is a national issue.

“This week-long police operation across the borough is the start of further and ongoing action to tackle metal theft, illegal goings-on at scrap yards and other offences often associated with this criminal activity.

“Results so far have been very promising and the offenders who risk harming themselves or innocent members of the public by targeting active gas pipes, or electrical cables, need to know that Rotherham is not an easy target.

“Offenders are being caught and prosecuted and scrap yards that carry out illegal activity, or receive obviously stolen goods, will soon find officers on their sites, shutting their businesses down for good.”

The joint operation ran from last Monday to last Friday, and focused on four Rotherham scrap dealers.

Officers said the first phase of the operation involved some covert police work, a full inspection of the sites, customers and their vehicles. A second phase, which started on Wednesday and targeted known metal theft offenders, used warrants to search their premises and property.