MIDHURST and Petworth police fighting a war against the escalating nightmare of scrap metal thefts have scored a major success.
Following a crackdown two weeks ago where police stopped suspicious cars and appealed for information to fight rural crime, they swooped on Pendean quarry at night and caught thieves in the act.
The Midhurst and Petworth Neighbourhood policing team went to the disused Pendean Cemex quarry at West Lavington at 9pm last Friday and caught two men in the act of stealing copper from an electrical supply outbuilding.
They were both equipped with hacksaws and a torch.
They were arrested at the scene and taken into custody.
“They were interviewed and admitted the offence,” said a police spokesman.
A 23-year-old man has been charged and will appear in court, and a 24-year-old was cautioned for the offence of going equipped with the intention of stealing.
Both men were from Midhurst.
Sgt Jonathan Chapman, who leads the neighbourhood team, told the Observer: “These arrests were a result of good police team work and we are very pleased.
“These arrests form part of the ongoing police Operation Pecan which is targeting known individuals who commit crime in the Midhurst and Petworth area.”
He added: “Special credit must go to PCSO Ian Luxford for organising and coordinating the operation, and also to PCSO Craig Dunlop and PC Paul Quinnell for finding and arresting the men.”
Sgt Chapman said these night operations would continue ‘so if anyone sees a suspicious vehicle they should report it to us straight away and we will follow it up’.
The arrests come after calls for a tougher approach to ‘crooked’ scrap dealers.
Lead thefts have become a major headache for police across the area, where no buildings are sacred. Among the victims have been the Cowdray Ruins, Petworth House and even Lord Cowdray’s memorial at Benbow Pond.
The Over 60s Club in the centre of Midhurst was also stripped of its lead roof.
Homes in the historic core of Midhurst have been targeted and home owners in listed buildings in the Conservation Area left with no choice but to repair roofs with the same material.
The crime wave has resulted in home owners becoming more resourceful and using anti-theft materials to protect their homes.
As concern about the problem grew, a leading councillor said earlier this year: “For the price of a few pints of beer these lead thieves are going immeasurable damage to the fabric of the town.”
He said the real problem lay with crooked scrap metal dealers who seemed to take lead with no questions asked.