MORE than 850 people have been arrested in Gwent in connection with metal theft offences in the past 17 months, and almost 70 van loads of scrap metal seized.

And Gwent Police are taking part in a new operation launched across Wales yesterday to target such offences, which have increased as scrap metal prices have risen.

As part of Operation Tornado, already run successfully across England, scrap metal dealers in Wales will be encouraged to take part in a scheme where they only buy scrap metal from people able to provide photographic proof of their identity.

This will include either a photo card driving licence including an address, or a passport or national ID card supported by a utility bill, which must be under three months old and show their address.

In council areas where ID schemes are already established for itinerant collectors, this will also include a local authority-issued photo ID card.

"This latest operation is just one of many tactics we are employing to tackle the theft of metal," said Detective Superintendent Russell Tiley from Gwent Police, Welsh representative on the National Metal Theft Working Group.

The operation is spearheaded UK-wide by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and British Transport Police.

In the north east of England, metal theft fell by around a half following the introduction of Operation Tornado.

Also in Gwent since April last year, almost 22,000 vehicles have been stopped, checked and searched in relation to metal theft offences.

More than 8,500 people have been stopped and searched, two scrapyards closed down, 1,471 vehicles seized, and 61 stolen vehicles recovered.

Anyone with information about metal thefts, or those involved, may call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.