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Police come down heavy on railway cable metal thieves – reducing disruption for Manchester commuters

By Rob Lowson

Manchester commuters can expect to face less train and tram disruption – as metal thieves who target cables face a police crackdown.

Greater Manchester Police raided 64 scrap metal dealers as the latest phase of ‘Operation Alloy’ swept the region this week.

The scheme, set up by GMP last year to tackle an unprecedented rise in metal theft, has successfully reduced the number of related incidents by 56% over the past year.

Thursday’s clampdown was part of the latest ‘Metal Theft Day of Action’, supported by numerous government agencies and police forces nationwide.

GMP confirmed that stolen metal had been recovered from five of the yards raided, with 11 arrests made.

Superintendent Craig Thompson, who led the day of action, said: “Many people will have been inconvenienced by power cuts, loss of telephone and internet connections and train and tram disruptions as a result of the activity of metal thieves.

“We have worked hard in the last year to substantially reduce metal thefts by targeting metal thieves in the scrap metal yards where they off-load their ill-gotten gains.

“We will be maintaining this level of pressure over the next few months to make it a cold, hard winter for metal thieves.”

As specified by Superintendent Thompson, one of the main areas affected by cable theft is the rail network, and British Transport Police were heavily involved in Thursday’s crackdown, making 13 arrests nationally via their own raids and vehicle stops.

These robust tactics appear to be working, with 710 fewer thefts of railway cable reported from April to October, a 51% decrease from the same period last year.

BTP Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray said: “The reductions seen in the past six months have been remarkable.

“Fewer people are having their rail journeys disrupted as a result of cable theft and thieves are having less impact on the lives of communities.

“But there is no room for complacency and there is much to be done.”

Manchester is certainly no stranger to the problem, with the city’s Metrolink network disrupted by various attempts at cable theft in recent months, including one incident in May when a suspected metal thief was seriously injured after falling 50 feet from a viaduct when trying to cut overhead wires.

A spokesperson for Transport for Greater Manchester, owners of the Metrolink system, said: “We’ve put in place a wide variety of measures to prevent and deter cable theft, but it’s clear that the people involved are very determined and do not care about the consequences of their actions.

“It’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do so they are putting their own lives on the line, but it also has a major impact on other people, with hundreds of passengers affected by the disruption caused.

“We have been working with the Operation Alloy unit at Greater Manchester Police and we’ll do everything we can to support them in bringing the individuals responsible to account.”

Cable theft is also a massive headache for Network Rail, with related compensation costs to train operators amounting to almost £1million last year in Greater Manchester and Merseyside alone.

Seventeen incidents across the two regions have already taken place since April 2012, with Manchester most recently affected on the September 23 when cable theft caused delays and cancellations between the Stockport and Navigation Road stations.

Keith Lumley, Media Relations Manager for Network Rail North-West, highlighted the fact that while the crime appears to be on the decrease, the number of trains cancelled or part-cancelled due to cable theft since April has actually already exceeded the numbers for the previous two years.

Describing figures linked to cable theft incidents from 2010 to the present day, he said: “For passengers it has meant over 500 trains cancelled and delays totalling more than 76,000 minutes.

“All totally unnecessary and caused by people intent on criminal activity.”

Both the BTP and Network Rail have welcomed news that legislative reform aimed at ending trade in illegal scrap such as railway cable is on the way.

Proposed changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act include outlawing all cash transactions at metal recycling yards across the UK, and hitting dealers who fail to abide by the rules with significantly higher fines than before.

BTP Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther warned cable thieves that their time is up.

He said: “The measures will seriously curtail the market for stolen metal as there will now be a clear audit trail back to those bringing commodities into recycling yards, and severe sanctions for those who step out of line.”

Mike Yates, General Manager of Singleton’s Scrap Metal in Tameside, has been involved in ‘Operation Alloy’ in the past and already imposes some of the safeguards highlighted to root out the culprits.

He said: “We use SmartWater detection equipment, which identifies any of the cables which the likes of Network Rail and local authorities use.

“We’re now using only photographic identification, and cash for scrap metal is stopping on the December 3. You’re only going to be able to pay into bank accounts.

“It’s quite difficult to be able to distinguish between what’s stolen and what’s not, but I turn away anybody I suspect of handling stolen materials.”

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