Suffolk: Thefts of catalytic converters soar over past four years

THEFTS of catalytic converters from vehicles have increased 12-fold over the past four years, it emerged today.

Between January and September this year there were 175 thefts valued at �346,803, compared to the same period in 2009 when there were 14 offences worth �44,680, according to Suffolk police figures.

The huge rise illustrates the lucrative opportunities there are for criminals in selling off the precious metals in catalytic converters for scrap. The devices, which cut down emissions, contain platinum, palladium or rhodium. These have high sell-on values.

Although a year-on-year comparison for the first nine months of 2011 to 2012 shows offences continued to rise by 10 per cent, the worth of the items stolen more than doubled from �166,415 to nearly �350,000.

Organised gangs particularly target vehicles such as Mercedes Sprinter vans, Ford Transits and 4x4s, as they provide access to the catalytic converters from the top of the vehicle rather than underneath. Hydraulic or pneumatic cutters are used to strip the devices.

Detective Inspector Nick Power, of Suffolk Constabulary, said: “It’s a big problem. There is really good money to be made for the thieves. They are getting top dollar for the precious metals.

“The problem is a rise in scrap metal prices, which have gone through the roof.

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“It used to be commercial premises that were targeted by going over a fence at night, but they have got a little bit braver and they are targeting vehicles on people’s property.”

On one occasion minicabs were even broken-into outside a cab company, while the drivers were in the office.

The thieves often work in teams and across counties throughout East Anglia. This has led to police carrying out prevention work and trying to raise awareness of the issue.

Det Insp Power said: “It is a borderless crime. There are a lot of teams who travel and target more rural areas.

“We have done several operations targeting individuals, and our roads policing units are briefed and are constantly looking at main access roads into Suffolk in the early hours of the morning.

“We have also had various action days where we have offered free marking. If a catalytic converter is marked and given to a scrap metal dealership quite a lot of them will tell us they have something.”

In addition to police raising the awareness of the problem, alarms and clamps can be bought to prevent thefts.

Officers have even contacted specialist tool firms selling cutting equipment requesting they tell them of anyone buying this sort of equipment that may raise suspicion.

Anyone with information which could help police catch offenders should telephone 101 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.