THERE have been more than 60 catalytic converter thefts in the Malvern area in the last three months – more than one every 48 hours. Observer reporter Carl Jackson met with the town’s police team on Friday to see what was being done to tackle this emerging threat.
DUE TO an increase in value, metal theft soared in 2013 prompting swift nationwide police operations.
By the end of the year there had been a significant decrease but one particular offence bucked the trend.
Between November and January there were 115 catalytic converter thefts in South Worcestershire – more than anywhere else in the West Mercia force area.
Out of those, 56 per cent occurred in Malvern. Insp Steph Brighton said it was difficult to explain exactly why the district was being tar-geted, but suggested it was due to Malvern’s rurality and lack of street lighting in many parts.
Another reason could be crackdowns on copper and lead thefts leading criminals to target the converters which are fitted to most modern vehicles. Using a set of pipe cutters thieves can remove them in as little as five minutes.
The unit which converts the emissions on vehicles contains precious metals such as platinum, palladium and even gold, and can typically fetch between £150 to £200 on the black market.
But the impact on victims can be devastating. Ripping off the converter will render most vehicles undriveable and can cost some vehicle owners upward of £1,000 to replace.
So what is being done? On October 1 new laws came into force which ‘tightened’ up the practises for dealers and collectors making it mandatory for them to keep thorough records so every item in their possession can be traced to who they got it from and where. The legislation also prohibits cash payments from scrap.
This year Malvern police officers launched Operation Urban, pulling in resources from several forces and groups, specifically to tackle catalytic converter thefts.
And on January 22 joint forces carried out a metal theft ‘Day of Action’ carrying out impromptu inspections of 32 waste metal premises and 21 waste metal carriers.
It was largely an intelligence gathering exer-cise however it also resulted in a further three in depth premises checks.
Early indications suggest the heightened focus has paid off. Catalytic converter thefts plummeted during the month from 16 in the first of January to six in the latter half.
Gareth Jones, owner of CRS – Malvern’s largest scrap yard, said: “It is a changing time for us but it has been fairly easy for us to keep up. We introduced computer databases a year ago before the law change.
“We stopped accepting cash more recently but it hasn’t had that much of an effect, it was probably ten per cent of our business.
“It is obviously a difficult time for us, when there are operations we are quiet there are no two ways about that. “But we want to go forward as an industry and bring it out of the dark ages.”
Unlike other crimes such as drink driving, police need no excuse to pull over a scrap metal carrier, and within minutes on patrol with PC Cliff Green we had stopped our first vehicle.
Interestingly the driver did not need to have a collector’s licence as he was a builder and simply removing the materials from the house he was working on, although this did not excuse him for failing to display his tax disc. His details were dutifully taken.
PC Green said: “The law is still very new. He didn’t need a licence because he was simply taking away his own scrap, the same as if someone was taking their own waste down the tip. But that maybe something which needs looking at in the near future.”
Despite the early results clamping down on scrap handlers has only solved half the problem, and actually exacerbated another as fly-tipping has subsequently increased prompting police to work with Malvern Hills District Council to address the issue.
But evidence suggests stolen catalytic converters are bypassing local dealers and being exported abroad. And even when stolen parts are found, it is incredibly difficult to trace them back to the vehicles they were removed from which is why police have two more prongs of action up their sleeves.
The first is a straightforward awareness cam-paign highlighting the problem and providing advice to motorists to protect their vehicles.
Keeping cars in garages, driveways with motion detecting lighting or generally well lit areas could be the difference between going to work in the morning or facing a £1,000 headache.
The location of crimes has been sporadic moving from place to place, but trends have emerged regarding the types of vehicles being hit. Police warned owners of vans and 4x4s which have high ground clearance to be on par-ticular guard and Citroens and Peugeots are also being targeted frequently.
Another part of the campaign is property marking, which will hopefully act as a deterrent in the same way as SmartWater.
Specialist kits have been created to ‘burn’ identity labels onto converters which police are making available for £5 and will be holding free installation sessions over the coming weeks with the first taking place on Saturday (February 8) at Morrisons car park on Townsend Way.
Insp Steph Brighton said: “We want to make the message clear that Malvern is still one of the safest places to live in the country. “Operation Urban has been launched to tackle this emerging threat and arrests are being made, but we can’t do this without public assistance and residents need to take measures themselves. We are in a very rural area and it is impossible for us to be everywhere.”
Hope Unlimited will be fitting the catalytic converter kits for free on Saturday between 10am to 2pm. There will be further events at Hanley Road car park in Upton upon Severn on February 22 and Tenbury Swimming Pool on March 1. Call Hope Unlimited on 01684 575 559 to arrange an independent fitting.
Follow @MalvernCops on Twitter for further details on upcoming events and call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 to pass on information regarding thefts to catalytic converters.