MALVERN is falling prey to a new breed of metal thieves who are stealing catalytic converters but police hope to stay a step ahead of them using new powers.
Metal theft has fallen by 6.2 per cent in West Mercia between November last year and January of this year when compared to the previous quarter following the introduction of tougher regulations last October. Scrap dealers now need two licences - the old waste carrier's licence and a licence for handling scrap metal in a specific district which they must display in their windscreen. They also have to show where they got the scrap metal from as rules tighten on document and record-keeping. No-one is now allowed to pay cash for scrap so police can better trace it via cheques or bank transfers.
However, catalytic converter thefts have soared by 20 per cent with thefts of 192 converters across West Mercia and 115 in south Worcestershire between November last year and January. More than half of the thefts in south Worcestershire (56 per cent) were in the Malvern district.
PC Cliff Green, a safer neighbourhood policing officer for Malvern, said the converters, which contain precious metals, could have a scrap value of up to more than £200 (around £150 on average) and it was believed they were being stolen and sold overseas as thieves sought a way around tougher rules and control in the UK. In particular 4x4s are being targeted because they have good ground clearance compared to a car so thieves can get underneath them easily and use pipe cutters or saws to remove the cat.
He said the thieves tended to strike when it was dark, sometimes in areas where there was no street lighting which included rural areas.
To get the cat off a car the thieves would need to use a jack although cars have been targeted with Citroens and Peugeots in particular proving popular with the thieves. It can cost £1,000 or more to repair a car that has had the cat removed.
Inspector Steph Brighton, lead safer neighbourhood inspector for Malvern Hills with responsibility for Operation Urban said: "I don't know why these thefts are so high in Malvern Hills specifically. Perhaps it is because we are a rural community and perhaps because there are more of those types of vehicles. We are making arrests. We need the general public to be our eyes and ears."
Cars will not work properly with the cat removed in many cases, leaving motorists stranded.
Operation Urban, launched this month, is concentrating specifically on tackling these types of metal thefts, including increased patrols and visits to scrap and metal recycling yards to stop the trade in the stolen converters. Another focus has been getting motorists to get their converters security marked with stickers available to put in the windscreen, warning that the cats are marked, to deter thefts. Motorists will have the chance to get them marked at events in Morrisons supermarket on February 8, at Hanley Road car park in Upton on February 22 and Tenbury swimming pool car park on March 1. Another way the public can help is to report suspicious activity. During activity yesterday (Friday) they visited CRS Ltd, a scrap yard in Malvern, where all the paperwork was found to be in order. A driver was also stopped carrying scrap but he was only clearing a house although he was displaying an out of date tax disc.