Putting a spanner in the works: Havering’s crack team tasked with stopping metal thieves

�It is a crime in which nothing is sacred: gravestones, memorials, church roofs, statues, even school drinking fountains – all have fallen foul of the metal thieves slowly but surely stripping Havering bare of its lead, copper and iron.

But now a 70-strong multi-agency taskforce led by Havering police has been assembled to starve the crime of oxygen – and the focus is on Rainham.

Chief Insp David Hay explains: “The information coming in is that criminals are coming to Rainham to dispose of metal obtained illegally.

“Havering is 45 square miles, we can’t be everywhere, but we can be where the thieves take their haul.”

Havering’s scrap hotspot, Rainham Marshes, is a rabbit warren of metal commerce and its related industry and the squad has been visiting around 20 dealers, most legitimate, as part of a crackdown called Operation Ram.

Scrap is big business, hundreds of laden trucks visit the site everyday, but site owners must take “reasonable steps” to ensure the metals are not stolen.

However, most are frustratingly difficult to trace.

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So in this new initiative, the police are bolstered by officers from the London Fire Brigade, Department for Work and Pensions, Customs and Excise, the Environment Agency, British Transport Police, BT and Havering Council – and any breaches of law or legislation is being pursued.

So far there has been more than 10 arrests, as well as scores of fines handed out for various infringements.

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Metal theft, a national problem, has become increasingly pervasive as the price of metals rapidly rises. Lead has tripled in value in just three years.

There are between two and three incidents reported to Havering police each day, Mr Hay said, and the knock-on effect is not just inconveniences but major infrastructural problems that costs society time and cash it can ill-afford.

It includes the routine disruption of train travel as a result of cable and points thefts; recurring phone and broadband blackouts as thieves rip up wires, as well the domestic upset of stolen cars from driveways.

Most worryingly, lives are being put at risk as thousands of pounds worth of metal grates are ripped from the ground – leaving deadly, gaping holes in the borough’s roads.

But the message is clear from police: the thieves will be stopped. “This is not a one-off operation,” said Mr Hay, “we have the resources and the systems in place to continue this for the foreseeable future.”

Cllr Michael White, leader of Havering Council, added: “We are determined to disrupt this activity.”

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