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MPs push hard for scrap law changes; Minister set to ban metal cash sales.

Byline: William Green

TOUGH new laws to combat metal thieves are expected to be announced by the Government. Home Secretary Theresa May is thought to be set to announce a ban on scrap dealers accepting cash payments in a bid to combat a problem which police say has its epicentre in the North East.

Unlimited fines for people caught trading stolen scrap could also be unveiled, with both measures coming into force in April.

The metal recycling industry is worth around pounds 5.6 billion and employs almost 8,000 people in the UK, recycling millions of tonnes of metal.

But a number of illegal sites and itinerant dealers are suspected of operating a business possibly as big as the legal trade.

Thefts have caused havoc on the railways, and seen churches and war memorials stripped of metal.

Now North MPs are piling on the pressure for legislative action, calling the scrap metal industry the weak link in combating crime.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said: "We are behind the cash ban but also the courts need to understand the problem is not the value of the scrap metal, but reinstating the job of what that scrap metal was doing before it was stolen."

Thieves stealing cable from an electricity substation in Gateshead a few months ago affected dozens of households, said the Labour MP. He added: "It caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to household electrics because of a power surge." The Commons transport committee is also demanding new measures after British Transport Police said the North East was the epicentre of metal theft on the railways.

A report from the committee highlighted the six-month trial by police in the North East, in conjunction with the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA).

As reported in The Journal, recycling sites involved in Operation Tornado must require anyone selling metal for cash to produce a identification.

MPs said British Transport Police have reported involvement rates of more than 80% of registered dealers in the voluntary scheme, but called for it to be made mandatory.

The committee said the Government should look at a trial of cashless trading in the scrap metal industry.

They also called for Network Rail to make cable more difficult to steal, while train operators should not be allowed to profit through compensation arrangements.

And it recommended British Transport Police be handed extra powers to inspect scrap metal yards, while the creation of a new offence of aggravated trespass on the railway would increase penalties.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We have stepped up enforcement action but believe legislation is needed for a sustainable, long-term solution to the growing menace of metal theft. We are currently looking at a range of options."

BMRA director-general Ian Hetherington said his association was anticipating an announcement soon, but added: "Cashless transactions will not solve the problem and will simply push the trade to illegal scrapyards."

For a number of years, BMRA has said people selling metal should be required to produce photo identity and scrap metal yards use CCTV to monitor transactions.

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BLITZ Police recently took part in raids aimed at netting rogue scrap metal dealers and money laundering offences
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2012
Words:531
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