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Vehicle recycling industry support imperative for CAT theft reduction

Although there has been some success in reducing catalytic converter theft and metal crime, it is still necessary that the vehicle recycling industry continue to play its part in supporting enforcement agencies to further reduce these criminal activities. Robin Edwards, owner of ONIS Consulting, consultant to Industry and Law Enforcement agencies, and who currently works with the British Transport Police, provides ATF Professional with his thoughts.

I have previously discussed the work we have done with enforcement agencies, partners, and other stakeholders to try and reduce catalytic converter theft and metal crime. I am pleased to say we have been successful in terms of the results we have achieved. We will continue to work towards eradicating metal crime, but unfortunately, the problem is here to stay, and we can only hope to reduce it to a less damaging and manageable level.

However, what I have not discussed is the significant role the recycling sector should play in supporting the work of enforcement agencies and in terms of protecting their own business interests against those who operate outside the law. 

I know enough about the sector to understand the impact crime and those involved in illicit activity have on legitimate business to realise the responsibility sits equally amongst all stakeholders. For example, how many businesses ask the right questions and just turn a blind eye to certain items that turn up at the yards? I know from experience it is all too easy to point out it’s not the sector’s responsibility to enforce the legislation, and many businesses are more than happy to articulate this when challenged about certain transactions. I have been told on many occasions, ‘I’m not required to do that under the legislation, so I’m afraid it’s not my responsibility’, which just isn’t good enough.

If I roll the clock back to 2011 and the early days of the relationship between the industry and law enforcement, I can remember sitting on opposite sides of the room arguing about the way forward to reduce metal crime. I can also recall pointing out that apathy or continuing to resist change would impact the next steps, and that’s exactly what happened. If the recycling sector, or certainly sections of it had embraced the opportunity to work with enforcement by taking on its share of responsibility, I wonder if the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 would have passed so easily into law. I appreciate that the situation is slightly different today as we do have the Act, and this does restrict what can or could be imposed on the sector, but why take the risk of subjecting the sector to more operating restrictions.

Commodity prices are at an all-time high, and it has been suggested they will continue to rise over the next few years, which, I’m afraid, is going to attract more criminals to what could be seen as a ‘low-risk, high-reward’ crime. The reason I suggest metal crime is ‘low-risk, and high-reward’ is that these assets are almost everywhere, and as a result, is difficult to target harden. They are difficult to identify once removed, and in general, they are not difficult to dispose of once in the possession of the criminal. 

The asset owners have a responsibility to protect their property, and that is the same if it’s a catalytic converter off a private owner’s car, the lead off a church roof or the cable that belongs to one of our national infrastructure companies. They all have to step up and think carefully about what they can do to ensure their property is as secure as it can be, and in general, the message is out there, although we do see this as a ‘work in progress’. 

The questions the recyclers need to ask themselves are: Do we know where the items come from? Who owns the items that are presented to us for sale? And when it comes to what questions should they be asking the seller?; Should they be more intrusive when trying to ascertain proof of ownership? Why would this individual be in possession of these items, and should they really be buying off them? If any of these questions are not answered correctly, then either the items could be quarantined until they are answered satisfactorily or refused, and enforcement contacted with the relevant information relating to the seller.

I have and continue to challenge recyclers when I have uncovered items that clearly shouldn’t be in their possession. These items could be marked cable, bulk buying of catalytic converters, large quantities of lead roofing, gas cylinders or plaques. In the majority of cases, they have either claimed they arrived with a larger load, so they didn’t know they were there, or they provided the correct identification and proof of address, so they were compliant with the law or didn’t feel it was their responsibility to challenge the seller. Well, it is the responsibility of the buyer to verify the provenance of the items, and ignorance is no defence. If items are identified, then the least they can expect is to have them seized and returned to the rightful owners which incur financial loss. 

I do, however, appreciate there are challenges, and in the ideal world, it isn’t always possible to check everything that comes through the gates of a business. Still, there does need to be a greater degree of responsibility and self-regulation. As I have said previously, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, so we must look inwards to identify ways of making it much more difficult for the thieves to dispose of their stolen property. There needs to be a swing away from ‘low risk, high reward’ that currently exists and make it ‘high risk’ from theft to disposal. We can’t do this without the support of the disposal end of the process, so engagement or cooperation is a vital element in effectively tackling crime.

I mentioned previously that we had reintroduced the ‘Red, Amber and Green’ (RAG) rating scheme for vehicle dismantlers, scrap dealers, mobile collectors and waste sites. I can only hope that the majority appreciate the advantages of being rated as a ‘Green’ business. Those who fall foul of the rating will find themselves clearly in the firing line regarding enforcement. If they continue to fail to comply with the act or continue to accept questionable or stolen material, it’s not unrealistic to expect they will face increased scrutiny when it comes to relicensing and will experience regular visits from all enforcement agencies who will examine their activities in detail. 

Enforcement agencies only have a limited number of resources. The RAG ratings allow us to focus our attention where it is needed making us much more effective in dealing with the non-compliant businesses that are out there trading in contravention of the legislation.

We know the majority of businesses are fully compliant or are at least trying their best to be compliant, and the numbers who flout the law or are happy to buy anything, including the use of cash form a minority. The sector either knows or has a good idea who sits in this category, but we don’t always have intelligence on these businesses and without it, it makes our role that much more challenging. 

We need the legitimate industry to step up and help us identify the businesses that not only hurt our infrastructure, communities, and heritage but also damage their businesses through unfair trading practices, the use of cash, and avoiding the costs, they, the legitimate industry, must bear to be compliant.

My plea to the recycling sector is to work with us to raise standards, improve reputations and close or improve those who are currently non-compliant. The industry is a valuable part of any countries economic structure, and it deserves to operate on a level playing field with its competitors and not be disadvantaged by those who are non-compliant. Speak to your local enforcement agencies and together we can make a difference by removing those who continually fail to comply with the law, damage the sector or are happy to turn a blind eye to who and what passes through their gates. 

To contact Robin, visit www.onis-consulting.co.uk or call him on 0793 0115709.

About Robin Edwards            

Robin is acknowledged as an expert in his field, having gained a wealth of experience on the subject of metal crime as the National Project Lead for Operation Tornado, Operational Lead for the National Metal Theft Taskforce and through the work his company has been involved in over the last seven years. He had a significant role in the development of the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Ac. His depth of knowledge around the application of the legislation is frequently called upon both as an expert witness and in support of enforcement activity. In 2014 he set up Onis Consulting and works as an independent consultant guiding Industry and Law Enforcement agencies through the challenges of developing effective preventative metal crime strategies. He currently works with British Transport Police as a subject matter expert and supports enforcement operations, delivers training across the UK and is part of the team that developed and delivered the NICRP. Robin sits on a number of working groups, and his expertise and guidance are sought internationally.