A CRACKDOWN on metal theft was carried out in Newport this week.

The surprise operation was run in conjunction with officers from Gwent Police and British Transport Police with the Environment Agency and BT, as the operation checked scrap yards, and vans carrying scrap around the city on Thursday morning.

Sergeant Simon Clark of Gwent Police, who has led much of the force's work on metal theft said they tried to carry out at least one major operation once a month at random to try and catch those working illegally off their guard.

Metal theft costs the UK economy an estimated £360 million a year and as was said in the briefing is an easy way of money laundering.

Officers on the operation are taken through a list of the red yards on the force's scrap yard traffic light system. These are yards where they have found misconduct previously and are a high priority to check again.

They run through specific area they have been before and found dealers and are shown intelligence of known troublemakers.

"To be most effective it's a mixture of gathered intelligence and officers local knowledge on the ground," said one of the officers involved.

The team are given a chilling warning by Sergeant Clark to "be careful" before heading out. It is particularly pertinent in light of an armed robbery which took place at the GLJ yard in Crospenmaen in April this year, where the scrap yard workers were held up at gun point and robbed of £10,000.

The increased violence and desperation of thieves to get the metal has been driven by the spiralling price of scrap.

Copper, alloy and lead top the charts of the must-have-metals for thieves with vehicle exhaust systems seeing a rapid rise in popularity too.

Documents prove where metal comes from

Our first stop on the operation is a yard near the SDR. A scrap collector who is well known to the officers is there and the last time he came face to face with them he was less than impressed to see them.

He is exasperated again here but the officers' approach of constant badgering and checks seems to have worked as he has had a lot of work done to his van to get it roadworthy and has up to date documents on him unlike the last time.

All collectors have to keep a book detailing the name, address, and what was taken of all their collections, while yards keep two books detailing all metal that goes in and out of the yard, including who brought it, what it was, what vehicle they were driving and how much they were paid.

If they fail to keep these records or cannot produce an ID card to prove they are registered with their local authority then they can be fined and persistent offenders given restraining orders.

The police patrols continue to pull and over and check their records, what they are carrying and check their tanks for red diesel but today, positively, all records are up to date and they don't need to add to the 70 van load seizures of scrap metal and two scrap yard closures they have made in the last 18-months.