Operation Crucible

Operation Crucible – Police and heritage experts coordinate action against metal thieves for first time

The fight against metal thieves stepped up a gear this week (5 – 9 September 2016) after police and heritage experts joined together for the first time to carry out coordinated enforcement action.

Operation Crucible saw police from across the country joined by experts from Historic England, the government service that champions England’s heritage,to carry out checks on scrap metal dealers. They were checking for a range of illegal activity including:

  • Theft and handling of stolen scrap metal
  • Operating without a licence or outside of their licence
  • Buyers making cash payments or sellers taking cash payments in exchange for scrap metal

This week, checks were carried out by several police forces, including British Transport Police (BTP), Metropolitan Police Service, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Essex and Cambridgeshire. They were also joined by colleagues from UK Border Agency, local authorities, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Trading Standards.

BTP Chief Constable Paul Crowther, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Heritage Crime said: “Paying or taking cash in exchange for scrap metal has to stop. We are working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence. We will take action to ensure they comply with the law and we won’t hesitate to take action against people who accept cash payments.

“Our message to criminals who are stealing metal from historic buildings, selling it on and, in the process, devastating communities, is simple. ‘We’re making it harder for you to sell stolen metal and gain from your activities. We will bring you to justice.’”

Welcoming the development of Operation Crucible, Mark Harrison, National Policing and Crime Adviser for Historic England, said: “The value of England’s heritage cannot be judged in pounds and pence. The impact of theft on our historic sites and buildings has far-reaching consequences over and above the financial cost of what has been stolen.

“Heritage crime comes in many forms. When thieves steal metal from protected sites and buildings such as churches, they are stealing from all of us and damaging something which is often irreplaceable.

“By working together with law enforcement agencies, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our shared cultural heritage.”

Operation Crucible is supported by British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the trade body for scrap metal dealers, and the Church Buildings Council (CBC), which supports over 16,000 cathedral and church buildings of The Church of England.

Robert Fell, BMRA’s Chief Executive, said:  “We have been pleased to support Operation Crucible and welcome the increased focus on cash-paying yards, which will make it hard for criminals to dispose of any stolen metal.

“We hope that a move to consider the legality of both sides of the transaction will act as a real deterrent and reduce the incidence of cash transactions markedly.”

Dr David Knight, Senior Conservation Officer, from CBC, said: “Theft of lead from church roofs, and metal theft from monuments and war memorials in churches is a persistent problem that has become increasingly organised and professional in the past year.

“The impact of this crime on volunteers who look after our church buildings, the communities they serve and our many heritage buildings is immense. The Church of England welcomes Operation Crucible”.

The operation culminates with a conference in Leicestershire today (Friday 9 September), hosted by Historic England and Leicestershire Police, focusing on metal theft from historic buildings, in particular churches.

While Operation Crucible focused activity in England and Wales, last week, from 1 September, a range of law enforcement and other agencies began to enforce a law change in Scotland banning the use of cash when buying or selling scrap metals and tightening regulations on scrap metal dealers’ record-keeping.

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