A MAJOR operation has been launched to crack down on cable theft on Northumberland’s railways.
Operation Leopard has been set up by British Transport Police (BTP) to blitz the county with extra officers.
The team from its dedicated cable squad will be deployed to monitor the Blyth and Tyne railway line, with high-visibility patrols day and night in key areas.
The move follows a surge in cable theft in the county.
Detective Inspector Mike Jackson said: “Unfortunately, the price of copper on world markets continues to drive the demand for cable, which has resulted in an increase in the number of incidents of cable theft on the railway.
“It’s costing the industry and the wider economy millions of pounds and that figure is rising.
“More and more culprits and scrap metal dealers are being caught, and we’re pushing hard to make sure they face the toughest possible sentences in relation to this crime.”
In partnership with Network Rail, BTP is visiting scrap metal dealers, burying and security marking cable, installing CCTV cameras and increasing the number of officers on patrol.
Operation Tornado is also being introduced in the North East for a six-month trial, which police hope will make it easier to trace sellers of stolen metal. From January 3, anyone selling scrap metal to participating dealers will have to provide proof of identity with either a photo card driving licence, or a passport or national ID card supported by a recent utility bill showing their address.
The trial will involve the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Home Office, British Metals Recycling Association, British Transport Police and Northumbria Police.
ACPO spokesman Chief Inspector Robin Edwards said: “The trial is one of a number of measures that is currently being explored to restrict the sale and movement of stolen metal.
“It has been designed not to inhibit those dealers that operate legitimate businesses, but to remove unscrupulous dealers who operate outside the law.
“We are hoping that all the estimated 240 registered scrap metal dealers in the region will sign up to be involved in this trial to help fight the stolen metal trade and make it more difficult for thieves to make money by targeting our communities for metal.”
In addition to stealing cable from railways, thieves have targeted power cables, utilities, pipe work, telecommunications cabling, homes, businesses and catalytic converters from vehicles.
Campaigners are calling for new legislation to tackle the crime, saying current laws, going back to 1964, are outdated.
They are seeking a more robust licensing regime for scrap dealers, a licence fee to provide more funds for regulation, property seized to be classed as criminal assets, police powers to close dealers and search and investigate premises, searchable records to be kept of sellers’ identity, and measures to restrict trade in scrap metals to cashless payments.
Crimestoppers, in partnership with Network Rail, has offered a reward of up to £1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any cable thieves.