Police and agencies stage clampdown on scrap merchants

Waste sites in Croydon and across south London and into Kent got a surprise early knock on the door from Environment Agency officers working with the British Transport Police, Kent Police, the Joint Unit for Waste Crime and Openreach, all part of a clampdown last month on the burgeoning crime of catalytic converter theft.

Police and EA officials carried out a clampdown on scrap metal merchants last month

Officers visited six sites in Croydon and Dover as part of a multi-agency week of action targeting metal and vehicle recycling businesses.

A number of vehicles stopped during the week were found to have no waste carrier’s licence or duty of care paperwork. One site was found to be illegal and is no subject to enforcement action.

British Transport Police searched the sites for stolen metal, in particular catalytic converters that are stolen for the precious metals they contain.

There were nearly 1,000 cars in Croydon that had their catalytic converters stolen during 2020 – almost doubling the number of such thefts reported in 2019. Croydon had the second-highest number of catalytic converter thefts of all London boroughs reported in 2020.

The rapid increase in these thefts has been prompted by a surge in the value of the metals used in by motor manufacturers in the converters.

Catalytic converters on some cars can cost up to £1,000 to replace.

The catalytic converter is housed in a box on the car’s exhaust system. It cleans up exhaust gases before they’re expelled from the exhaust pipe.

Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, are targeted by thieves because they have two power sources – an electric motor and a petrol or diesel engine – so their catalytic converters are used less frequently to process pollutants. This means the metals inside them are less likely to corrode, so they’re more valuable.

Raids on scrap metal merchants were carried out in Croydon and across south London

A catalytic converter contains palladium, platinum and rhodium. According to recent spot prices, rhodium, as an example, costs £20,000 per ounce. And illegal scrap metal merchants will buy stolen materials for cash.

The week-long drag-net operation by police and Environment Agency saw them checking waste companies’ financial records to ensure they adhered to the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

In a broader sweep across the country between Monday, April 19, and Friday, April 23, police and partner agencies:

  • made 56 arrests
  • visited 926 sites (catalytic converter process plants, scrap metal dealers, vehicle dismantles and catalytic converter buyers)
  • stopped 664 vehicles
  • recovered 1,037 stolen catalytic converters and 297 items of stolen property and
  • identified 244 offences

Part of the haul of recovered stolen car exhaust and converters

“This should serve as a warning to those who would flout the law that we and our partners are rooting out waste crime and we won’t hesitate to take action,” said the Environment Agency’s Matt Higginson.

“Unscrupulous scrap metal sites are accepting stolen catalytic converters and cabling, further fuelling their theft across the south-east. Joint investigations and enforcement will continue and if convicted, those responsible could face extensive fines and even prison sentences.”

Anyone who suspects illegal waste activity is reminded to report it to the Environment Agency’s 24-hour hotline by calling 0800 80 70 60, or anonymously contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

You can check your waste collectors waste carriers registration at https://environment.data.gov.uk/public-register/view/search-waste-carriers-brokers or call 03708 506 506.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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