FIRST lead was stripped from the roofs of churches and schools across North Yorkshire to cash in on the soaring value of the metal. Then wiring was stolen from alongside railway tracks to sell on the valuable copper.

Now thieves have begun stealing catalytic converters from vehicles parked at garages and on roads across the York area to obtain the precious platinum they contain.

Platinum prices are soaring, with the metal trading last week at more than £1,000 an ounce.

North Yorkshire Police say since the beginning of the year, there have been 12 reported thefts of converters, all in the York area.

On one occasion, no fewer than ten were taken in one night from vans parked up outside one garage, York Van Centre Ltd, in Shipton-by-Beningbrough.

The garage owner, Tony Huggins, said the thefts were "devastating" for the business, making the vehicles unroadworthy.

He told The Press that he had had to replace the entire exhaust system, at a cost approaching £300 per vehicle, and he had now stepped up security.

Police said two converters were taken from Garage Services (York) Ltd in James Street, York, and another was stolen from a Vauxhall van parked in the yard of Newey & Eyre Ltd, in Redeness Street, York.

But a spokesman said some converters were also stolen from vehicles in non-garage locations, including a Ford Transit parked at Express by Holiday Inn, in Malton Road, and a Citroen van parked at Evans Business Centre, Rose Avenue, Nether Poppleton.

One was removed from a Land Rover Freelander also parked at Rose Avenue, Nether Poppleton. "This was the third time the vehicle has been targeted in this way," said a spokesman.

On another occasion, thieves attempted to steal the catalytic converter from a Citroen Relay van parked in a secure compound at Newland Paint Supplies, in Auster Road, York.

"Despite not getting away with it, the exhaust system on the van was badly damaged during the attempt."

The spokesman revealed a 19-year-old man from Doncaster had been given an 18-month conditional discharge by York Magistrates after being convicted of stealing and attempting to steal catalytic converters from vehicles parked at Evans Halshaw Motorhouse York, in Audax Road, earlier this year.

He had been caught after being spotted on CCTV.

Thefts reflect sharp rise in price of scrap metal'

POLICE said today that catalytic converters thefts were a growing problem nationally, and directly reflected the sharp rise in the price of scrap metal.

"The targeted vehicles and actual parts tend to be at commercial garages, although there have been cases where cars have been interfered with while parked in the street," said a North Yorkshire Police spokesman.

He said police were working closely with local scrap dealers to help clamp down on the sale of catalytic converters and other valuable metal items such as lead and copper.

"Enquiries are also ongoing into the individual cases and a body of intelligence is building up that will help us to counter-act the problem."

He advised businesses to take measures to secure yards, buildings and vehicles, and also install CCTV.

"To a lesser extent, the same advice applies to the average car owner.

"If a vehicle is locked up in a garage, parked on a driveway or even left secure on a well-lit street, then this will greatly minimize the risks of becoming a victim of this and other auto-crime."

He said anybody with information about catalytic converter thefts in the York area should phone York CID on 0845 60 60 24 7 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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