The victim of a cat burglar
This man is one of thousands to have fallen prey to crooks who target cars for their catalytic converters. John Evans explains why such crimes are soaring
is booming. “China and the US are leading the demand for the material, while across the world car makers are insisting on higher levels of precious metals to avoid emissions fines. Investors have jumped in and are helping to push prices higher.”
Dylan says that last year his company began receiving offers of scrapped converters from suppliers who refused to tell them where they had got the components from. In response, the company asked for a copy of the V5 vehicle registration document relating to each unit. This became an administrative nightmare, he says, so now the company will only deal with licensed traders and refuses to pay cash: “We know there are a lot of buyers of stolen converters because increasingly they say to us ‘I can get a better price for cash elsewhere’. It’s frustrating. Local councils and the Environment Agency need to tighten up site inspections and close down rogue operators.”
On that point, BBC Radio 5 Live reported that of the 243 councils it approached in 2018, only a fraction had inspected scrap dealers. Meanwhile, in February this year, it found that 120 councils hadn’t visited or inspected any scrap dealers in the previous 28 months. Councils say they have limited resources and are asking the government to introduce greater enforcement powers.
Mark Silvester, a West Midlands Police crime prevention manager, says legislated checks on scrap dealers must be done: “Converter theft is a hard nut to crack, but tougher enforcement of scrap dealers is a good place to start. We’ve got clean air zones and our fair share of hybrids and as a result we’ve seen a rise in converter thefts.
“Many of these stolen converters surface on internet sales sites, so we’ve launched pop-up advertisements warning people about rogue parts when they’re browsing. We’ve also identified and raided over 100 chop shops where stolen cars are broken for parts. If someone calls us at 1am and tells us they’ve seen a gang cruising the streets checking out cars, we’ll dispatch an officer.”
Unfortunately for Chris King, it’s unlikely to send one as far as south-west London, where he lives. The victim of converter thieves claims he was visited by officers from the Metropolitan Police only after he wrote complaining to his local MP, the mayor of London and Dame Cressida Dick, the force’s commissioner. Lack of evidence meant the crimes were not investigated.
A spokesman for the Met Police told Autocar that the force is aware of catalytic converter thefts in King’s area and that local neighbourhood teams have run operations such as plain-clothes patrols to prevent them, as well as helping local residents understand how to secure their car’s converter.
“Local teams continue to monitor local thefts and will continue to work proactively to stop them,” said the spokesman. Sadly, their efforts have come too late for King, who is now enjoying travelling by bus and feeling much more relaxed.
Videos posted online demonstrate how gangs operate