A SCRAPyard suspected of handling stolen goods and being involved in large-scale money-laundering was temporarily closed by police last week.
AC Robinson’s yard in West Sleekburn was one of six shut down while officers carried out searches, but it was allowed to reopen later the same day, last Wednesday.
Police – along with officials from the Environment Agency, BT, Northern Grid and Northumberland County Council’s trading standards department – executed 14 warrants across the force’s patch in the latest phase of a region-wide operation to target metal theft and those profiting from it.
Several houses were also searched, including two in Ashington, and about £100,000 in cash was seized.
A total of 21 people were arrested on suspicion of money-laundering offences, four of them at the West Sleekburn yard and two of them at the homes raided in Ashington.
They have been bailed until July pending further inquiries.
Besides Robinson’s, yards were raided in NewcastleGateshead and Sunderland.
Northumbria Police assistant chief constable Jim Campbell said: “Tackling metal theft is a force priority, and we make no apologies for the tough stance we are taking against it.
“Metal thieves are causing significant disruption to our transport, communication and power infrastructures, affecting daily life in our communities, and we will not tolerate it.
“This is a multi-million-pound industry which relies heavily on self-regulation, but our evidence suggests that, in the case of many dealers, this is not working.
“Thefts are ranging from opportunist thieves stripping lead off a house roof to gangs of organised criminals posing as legitimate workmen and stealing miles of cable from utilities and transport networks.
“Last year in the force area, we had almost 5,000 metal thefts.
“However the thieves themselves would have no market for their stolen goods if it wasn’t for the metal dealers who buy from them, often knowing fine well that the goods are stolen.
“It’s important people realise that those running these yards illegally are organised criminals, making vast profits while innocent members of our communities suffer the consequences.”
Police have pledged to exploit all the powers at their disposal to bring those involved in metal theft to justice and, using the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act, strip criminals of their assets.
Dave Edwardson, regional environmental crime team leader for the Environment Agency, said: “We are supporting Northumbria Police in their efforts to reduce scrap metal thefts, and we will help ensure that the environment is protected at these sites.
“We will inspect all the sites to check that they are carrying out their operations lawfully.
“We hope the raids will disrupt people who are acting unlawfully and help support legitimate waste management businesses that operate responsibly.”
there is no hiding place for those involved in metal theft.
“Those who operate legally have nothing to fear – we support those dealers who are working to improve the industry.