Norfolk metal theft hot-spots revealed as police pledge to crack down on criminals

Norfolk police have vowed to get even tougher on thieves who steal metal next year, after figures revealed there have been more than 2,200 such crimes in the county over the past three and a half years.

As prices for scrap metal soar, new statistics revealed more than �150,000 of copper, lead and stainless steel was snatched in the five biggest metal thefts in Norfolk this year.

And Downham Market, in the west of the county, is one of the hotspots for the thefts.

While a police operation in the summer – part of the ongoing Operation Radar police operation set up to tackle rogue traders and bogus callers – has helped prevent the number of metal thefts in Norfolk soaring as much as in other parts of the country, police said 2012 would see them further step up efforts to clamp down on the criminals.

Det Sgt Pete Jessop, who heads up Operation Radar, said: 'When we first started up Operation Radar in 2008, metal theft was a problem and then the value of metal dipped so it did not happen so much.

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'But the value has shot up again and it's at the stage now where they will take anything, from copper overflow pipes from toilets to door knockers.'

According to figures revealed using the Freedom of Information Act there were 2,224 metal theft crimes in Norfolk between August 2008 and November this year.

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The biggest haul criminals stole this year was �37,000 worth of copper, taken from a copper suppliers in Hellesdon Park Road in Norwich in March.

Just over �30,000 worth of copper was taken from St Stephens Road in Norwich in September, �30,000 worth of lead from Little Melton in October and �30,000 of stainless steel rig components from Murrayfield Road in Norwich in July.

Rounding off the biggest five thefts was �26,000 worth of copper snatched from Great Hockham in September.

The metal theft hotspots were also revealed through the Freedom of Information Act request. The area with the most thefts this year was the sector in Norwich known as West Centre, which takes in the area within the city's outer ring road from Ipswich Road in the south, around to the River Wensum near Barker Street in the north.

There were 57 thefts in that area, with the other hot-spots revealed as Downham Market (48), East Dereham (41), Mile Cross, Catton and Fiddlewood (40) and Terrington (38).

The police's Operation Radar, which included a crackdown in June, targeted rogue traders, bogus callers and scrap metal thieves.

Almost 4,000 vehicles on Norfolk's roads were stopped and searched to see if they were carrying any scrap metal, while Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) visited scrap yards to make sure they were aware of the law and to urge them to contract police about suspicious attempts to sell metal.

Mr Jessop said: 'When we started up I don't think people realised how big a business scrap metal had become. It really opened our eyes.

'Next year we are looking to get back to basics and really go after the individuals who have done this. With partner agencies, and based on intelligence we get from them and from scrapyards, we will be knocking on the doors of individuals who are involved.

'It's been said that metal thefts are becoming more of a threat to the country than terrorism. With thefts from railway lines, that really affects the infrastructure of the country and whole villages have lost their phone lines after cable thefts.'

Nationally, metal theft rose by 70pc in the past 12 months but in Norfolk, the increase has been held back to 40pc.

Transport minister Norman Baker recently said new legislation might be required to deal with the 'major problem' of cable theft on the railways.

And Mr Jessop agreed it was time for the government to update or replace the ageing Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 to make it harder for criminals who steal metal to sell their stolen wares.

He said: 'They are looking at it, but it would be helpful if they moved a bit quicker. If they reduced how much people can receive in cash for scrap metal that would go a long way. 'Some of the people we are planning to target next year will have made tens of thousands of pounds a year out of scrap metal and if they had to have that money paid into their bank accounts rather than in cash that would help us.'

All suspicious activity around metal theft should be reported to police, including information about anyone who arrives unannounced at homes or business offering to remove scrap. Dial 999 if a crime is in progress or call 101 otherwise.

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