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30 March 2012, 13:52
More than £500,000 worth of stolen metals including vehicles and caravans have been seized by officers from ERSOU (Eastern Region Special Operation Unit) following the conclusion of Operation Chisel today in Felixstowe.
Operation Chisel has been running since the end of January and was set up specifically to target the theft of metal in the region.
Officers have intercepted containers at ports including London Thamesport, Tilbury, Felixstowe, Harwich and Dover as the items were about to be shipped abroad to West Africa, China, India and Northern Cyprus.
Items seized include more than five hundred liquid propane Gas Cylinder (LPG) cylinders - including 304 which were seized in one container. The total value of the cylinders recovered is believed to be in excess of £20,000.
Vehicles have also been seized including whole cars and parts of cars which have been stripped down and cut.
A large quantity of national infrastructure cable has also been recovered, believed to be worth several thousands of pounds.
Detective Inspector Gary Brotherhood, from ERSOU, who has led Operation Chisel, said: "Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has worked on Operation Chisel for their relentless hard work and dedication, sometimes in exceptionally difficult and arduous circumstances. The theft and planned exportation of these goods is clearly the work of serious and organised crime groups using this as a means to finance and fund organised crime. This investigation will have significantly disrupted sophisticated criminal networks and investigations. We will continue to work with partners to tackle these crimes and look at areas where we can make it difficult for criminals to operate in this way.
Criminals who target our national infrastructure by stealing cables will be pursued to prevent harm to our communities. We will not tolerate our Regional Ports being used to export stolen vehicles and metals and will do everything we can to disrupt them in their activity. It is a priority to identify others and bring them to justice."
Bill Form, Border Force Assistant Director for Central Region said: "We are all familiar with reports of stolen metal - whether in the form of vehicles, gas cylinders or cabling - and where international crime gangs are involved, we are determined to stop these goods being smuggled out of the UK. That's why Border Force supplied the cutting edge technology and intelligence on international smuggling to support this operation.
The message to smugglers is clear, whatever the contraband, there is no hiding place from Border Force and the police."
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Hooper from AVCIS (ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service) said: "We were happy to support this operation by providing intelligence and highly-trained vehicle examiners who were able to identify a significant number of stolen vehicles destined for export, many on false identities. This clearly demonstrates that organised criminals remain very active in vehicle theft and burglary, particularly where prestige and valuable vehicles are stolen to order and we are working with colleagues around the country to detect and dismantle their criminal activities."
Calor Gas Ltd, whose cylinders formed a large proportion of those uncovered during this operation, have welcomed the successful policing of Thamesport in this manner.
Paul Blacklock, Calor's head of strategy and corporate affairs said, "For a long time we have suspected that many Calor cylinders were disappearing, not just into the illegal scrap trade, but also as part of a more organised criminal underworld, involving the shipping of cylinders out of the country on an industrial scale.
This operation by the Border Agency and the Police at Thamesport confirms this belief and may well prove to be just the tip of the iceberg. It is therefore important that all those who own or sell cylinders are extremely vigilant against these thieves."
Andy Phillips, Enforcement Officer with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, commented: "The attempt to ship a large number of undeclared LPG cylinders is a major concern. If loaded onto a cargo vessel they would have posed a serious risk to the safety of the crew and the ship itself. The possible leakage of flammable gases into the hold of a ship during a voyage could have resulted in an explosion with the resulting loss or major damage to the vessel. The shipment of undeclared dangerous goods is an on going issue for the shipping industry and the MCA is very pleased to see the successful outcome of Operation Chisel."