A MAJOR operation to curb the rising trend in the theft of copper and other valuable metals has seen a big drop in crimes this year.

The number of reported metal thefts in Wiltshire has fallen dramatically since the start of Operation Tornado, with the figure during September 2012 standing at 77, a 62 per cent reduction from September 2011 when 204 were logged.

So far this month, just 29 metal thefts have been reported, compared to 131 in January 2012.

Operation Tornado is a multi-agency initiative which was set up last year to tackle the growing national trend of metal thefts, which saw scrap yards, railway lines and even churches plundered for their in-demand metals.

A number of local scrap metal dealers were raided as part of an investigation as to whether or not they were trading stolen metal, with many transactions taking place on a cash-only basis.

Wiltshire Police worked alongside organisations including BT, the Environment Agency, Western Power, the Lead Sheet Association and local government departments in both Wiltshire and Swindon during this operation.

Acting Detective Sergeant James Neighbour, who is in charge of Operation Tornado, said: “This is a significant reduction in a crime which has wide ranging impacts on local communities.

“This operation is as much about educating those who deal in scrap metal about the pitfalls of buying metal which may be stolen as well as the unannounced raids last year.

“Scrap metal dealers no longer trade in cash, which has had a massive impact on the number of opportunist metal thieves trying their luck to sell stolen metal on.

“Metal theft causes misery for thousands of people across the country.

“Evidence in 2011 highlighted the fact that criminals were diversifying and targeting metal from other areas including power cables, utilities pipe work and telecommunications cabling.

“Although these figures are positive, we will continue targeting these criminals. I appeal to anyone who has information on metal thefts to come forward.

“All information will be treated in confidence.”

Anyone wishing to report a crime should contact Wiltshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.