A Tees Valley-wide operation to tackle unlicensed scrap metal collectors across the region has been hailed a success after a string of suspect vehicles were stopped.

Operation Haddock saw licensing, trading standards and civic enforcement staff from the five Tees Valley councils – Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland – join forces with Police from Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a bid to raise awareness of the issues and tackle illegal scrap metal dealers.

Visits to various scrap metal sites in the run up to the operation raised awareness, and notices were handed out reminding operators and collectors of their legal obligations.

There was also a social media campaign to highlight the issue among householders and those working in the industry.

During the final phase, towards the end of September, multi-agency teams stopped suspect vehicles and the driver, vehicle and any materials it was carrying were checked.

Drivers will were also asked to account for all scrap metal they carried and, where appropriate produce their licence to collect scrap metal.

In all 15 suspect vehicles were stopped – four in Darlington, three in Middlesbrough, four in Stockton, three in Hartlepool and one in Redcar & Cleveland.

Two vehicles stopped in the Darlington area had such serious defects they were each served with a prohibition notices to take them off the road immediately.

Other issues identified during the week-long operation included two individuals who were collecting scrap metal without a licence from any of the local authorities; a driver with no insurance, one vehicle with no road tax, one vehicle with no MOT, lack of record-keeping, breaches of consumer protection regulations, no waste carrier licence and one collector was issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice for having an insecure load.

Investigations are now continuing in relation to several of the individuals stopped during the operation with a view to further action being taken in the courts, which could lead to fines of up to £5,000 for anyone found guilty of collecting scrap metal without a licence.

Councillor Jonathan Dulston, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for community safety, said: “We are pleased with how Operation Haddock went and working together we’ve been able to identify several rogue scrap metal collectors who are now subject to further inquiries.

“We would once again remind operators and collectors of their legal obligations and we will be carrying out further joint operations of this kind in the future.

“We would also remind residents to only give or sell scrap metal or waste to a licensed operator, and make sure you keep a copy of their details and any receipt.”

Councillor Steve Nelson, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Cabinet member for access, communities and community safety, said: “Scrap metal theft is an issue we take seriously and that’s why we already work closely with the police, neighbouring local authorities, the Environment Agency and residents to crack down on it.

“This latest operation supports our joint efforts by highlighting the legal obligations that scrap metal dealers must meet – not just among dealers themselves but among residents too.”

Chief Inspector Graham Milne, from Cleveland and Durham Specialist Operations Unit, said: “Metal theft is an issue for our communities, it affects individuals and businesses, so it’s great to see partner agencies coming together to tackle this problem that is having a negative impact on victims.

“There are a number of criminals who are still prepared to take risks to steal metal so by carrying out operations like this, we are tightening the net around those involved in this type of crime.

“We would encourage homeowners not to make things easy for thieves: don’t leave metal items like bikes or garden equipment insecure, keep an eye on any unoccupied property where you live and report anything suspicious.”

John Williams, DVSA vehicle enforcement manager North East, added:

“DVSAs’ priority is to protect everyone from unsafe drivers and vehicles. By working together and coordinating our information and intelligence we can crack down on more dangerous vehicles and the unscrupulous people who operate them.”

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 places a requirement on all businesses involved in the buying and selling of scrap metal to be licensed by the local authority and includes both those who operate from sites and those who collect door to door.

Householders can check if a company has a licence through the Environment Agency Public Register or call 08708 506506.

If you are collecting scrap metal without a licence issued by the local authority area you collect it from you are committing an offence and can be prosecuted. You also need to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy. You can apply for a three year licence in Darlington at:

https://www.darlington.gov.uk/business-and-licensing/licensing/licensing-a-z/scrap-metal-dealer/

For more information log onto the website at www.darlington.gov.uk/communitysafety and click on Licensing.