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No questions asked...six out of seven scrap firms bought signs
3:50pm Wednesday 5th September 2012 in News
THE Gazette today exposes how easy it is for thieves to sell stolen metal to Essex scrap yards...with no questions asked.
An undercover investigation found six out of seven businesses approached by us bought council road signs for cash from reporters using false names and addresses.
They asked no questions about where they came from, and paid cash without seeing any proof of identity.
Our probe also casts doubt on a police scheme set up to deter thieves from selling stolen metal before new laws are passed.
The voluntary Operation Tornado initiative gets scrap yards to refuse to deal with anyone who won’t produce official photographic ID.
Half the yards we tooks signs to were part of the scheme, but two didn’t ask to see any documents, while the other still bought the metal when our reporters said they had no ID.
Soaring metal prices have fuelled an ongoing spate of metal thefts across Essex, including lead from church roofs, civic statues and funeral plaques.
Taxpayers have had to fork out thousands of pounds to replace road signs and manhole covers which have also been stolen up and down the country.
Since March, there have been at least 1,116 incidents of metal theft in the county alone.
New laws being drawn up to deter thieves selling to yards by outlawing cash transactions and make any one who uses them provide photo ID are still going through Parliament.
In the meantime, police introduced the voluntary scheme and so far 31 of the 47 yards in Essex have signed up.
Peter Halliday, Tendring Council ’s deputy leader said: “It is unbelievable what your investigation has thrown up.
“It is alarming there are companies which don’t ask any questions. If you introduce a form of legislation and don’t enforce it, then it is useless. Legislation is only as good as the policing of it.”
Undercover reporters drove a car boot load of scrap - each one including a road sign plus various other metals such as lead flashing and industrial cable - to seven randomly-selected businesses in Basildon, Laindon, Southend, Colchester, Clacton and Elmstead Market.
One other scrap yard asked for ID, but still took the sign when none could be produced.
The road signs were donated by Southend Council. Andrew Lewis, the council's corporate director for environment, said: “We would expect scrap yards to be responsible and check the items they might buy are legally and legitimately acquired.
Bernard Jenkin , MP for Harwich North Essex, said: “Essex Police have taken a very proactive approach with Operation Tornado, and I am most disappointed to hear their efforts are being undermined by scrap metal dealers not taking this seriously.”
See Wednesday's Gazette for special investigation.