A Quick History of Our Industry
A Quick History of Our Industry is a compelling look back across the UK scrap metal industry over the last 100 years. It covers everything from the industry as portrayed in popular culture, the political changes for the industry and how the Scrap Metal Dealers Association was formed to look after the scrap metal dealers of UK. To give them advice and to represent them when they needed it the most.
A Quick History of Our Industry
In the years of flower power, Scrap metal dealers were recycling. They didn’t know it, as the word hadn’t been invented, but essentially that is what they were doing. They had been doing it since the 1920s. It would have always been a man never a woman, with a horse and cart, no lifting machinery apart from his broad shoulders and muscular back, and a trolley to move heavy items. The job was manual, with long hours and traitorous working conditions, that modern-day Health and Safety would have had a field day with. These men worked as hard as any miner, clawing out a living travelling around streets with their familiar cry of ‘Any old iron,’ made popular in 1957 by Peter Sellers with the song of the same name. These people were part of a community so much so that in 1962 the famous Rag and Bone man was seen on televisions as “Steptoe and Son”. He was in everyone’s homes once a week, being mocked for his lack of education and his son’s attempts to drag himself up the social ladder. It was popular watching that set the scene for future Scrap Metal Dealers some 60 years later. The mindset was that these men were dodgy, not quite criminals but not PAYE tax-paying law-abiding folk that enjoyed the popular television caricature that was being portrayed to them. They never saw the rain or sleet, the pain in every muscle, the worry of how to pay the bills the following week or get the vet round to check on the horse.
As if by design, in 1964, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act came into force. It was to control the scrap metal rag and bone men that knocked on the doors of citizens that people had seen on the television screens. Scrap metal dealers and their security systems (several free-roaming attack dogs that patrolled their yards at night) would be licensed with the Local Authority. Not only would they be registered, but they would also have to collect the names and addresses and description of metal and weight that they bought. The local police would be allowed to check their books which they often did. If there had been a robbery locally, a Bobbie would be sent around to inform the scrap dealer of the stolen item’s description and to check that it hasn’t been inadvertently bought by the yard. If it was found in the yard, the local police would return to the rightful owner, and the scrap dealer would be out of pocket. The relationship between the scrap dealer and local police was one of fair play. They each had a role, although not always best friends they respected each other as members of the community.
As the millennium approached, life had changed for everyone. There were computers and emails. Everyone had a mobile phone, gone was the horse and cart replaced with transit vans. However, scrap metal dealers were still working their socks off for very little money. From 1995 they now had the Environment Agency policing them as well as the Local Authority, weights and measures checking their weighbridges, licensing making sure they had a licence and were registered and of course the local police still popping in every few months or so for a cuppa and to tell them what they should be looking out for.
Another industry had been on the rise, that of the motor salvage dealer. Obviously, this industry was not covered under the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, because they were not scrap dealers. A scrap dealer bought and sold metal that no one wanted, whilst a motor salvage operator was licensed under the Vehicle Crimes Act 2004 and bought cars crashed or damaged or cheap and either did them up to resell or stripped them down into parts and sold those second-hand car part. They too had to be licensed with the local authority and had to keep records of the vehicles they bought and sold, no one asked them to weigh what they bought, as motor salvage operators didn’t have weighbridges in which to do that, they did have to write the vehicle registration down. Unlike in the early 1960s, everyone had a car in 2000 and not only was car ownership the norm so to, had become vehicle theft. Although a problem, vehicle theft had in itself invented its own industry of car insurance – which was a financial success with thousands of employees and millions of pounds propping up these strong financial institutions. It was also a criminal offence not to have insurance whether an accident had occurred or not, so that boosted the fines that were raised. It was in no one’s interest to eradicate vehicle crime.
Outside influences were the only thing that would ruin these symbiotic relationships. That came from China, as they industrialised their Country, they needed steel, billions of tonnes a day to be sent from around the world. Suddenly iron which Scrap dealers had been buying at £4 a tonne was now £120 a tonne, eventually rising to £165 a tonne. Those same scrap metal dealers that had been mocked in the 1970s for wanting to climb socially suddenly found they had the money to do it. Gone was the horse as fleets of lorries appeared in their yards, their wives were driving Mercedes taking their children to private schools hobnobbing with the magistrates and MP’s children. They flashed their cash and let everyone know they ‘had hit the big time’.
Money causes jealousy, especially if you have worked hard to gain an education, worked your way up in a company to achieve a healthy income. It is easy to see that ordinary people would come to the conclusion that scrap metal dealers must be doing something illegal to be carrying around £10,000 cash in their pockets or their records showing they made £169,000 in an eight week period in cash. “How could that be legal? I bet they aren’t paying tax!” they would mutter amongst themselves. It must have been galling for the local Bobbie to see the man he had looked down on, who could barely read or write, make more money in a week than he’d make in 2 years.
However, with the change in social status, it wasn’t the local Bobbies that changed. There were two industries that suddenly became interested in Scrap Metal - Banks and Criminals. In some eyes, they are pretty much the same thing, both wanted to wash the scrap metal industries money. Suddenly Banks that had never wanted to give a mortgage or loan or in some cases even a bank account to a Scrap Dealer suddenly liked the idea of scrap metal money flowing through their business. Criminals suddenly thought they could set up a business and wash huge amounts of cash without anyone being any the wiser.
Now it is important to remember that no one left school in the 1960s deciding as a career choice they would be scrap dealers. They were either born into the industry, or they were uneducated, illiterate and usually suffering from dyslexia or a form of learning difficulty that made them ripe for manual work, although undiagnosed. If these people had these ailments so too, in all probability, did their children. A straw poll was recently carried out by the Scrap Metal Dealers Association in 2018 which showed that their members had a higher than average level of dyslexia compared to the general population.
It was easy for criminals to infiltrate the industry. It didn’t mean that the hard-working scrap dealers had suddenly become the criminals; it meant that the criminals had got in on the act.
Suddenly a raise in crime became apparent according to the media. Anything made of metal was being stolen to cash in on the Chinese boom. These thefts included railway cable, cable from British Telecom and from railway lines. As well as more emotive items like war memorials, church roofs and children’s play equipment. Scrap metal dealers were becoming society’s arch-enemy despite the fact that they were not stealing the metal after a hard days work in the yard, it was not them that tiptoed out into the night to dismantle a church lead roof. It was people that wanted to steal; it was criminals.
Just as before the local police might come to the yard to look at the books and find nothing to suggest a 40-tonne lead roof had been bought, but they did notice the owner had bought three brand new trucks and was wearing a lot of gold. How was that possible unless they were criminals!
Through ignorance of the industry, and a breakdown in communication between the Authorities and the Scrap dealers that were beginning to be marginalised by society and the media as “criminals” the Authorities felt they needed to do something and fast. Metal theft was getting out of control, and the Scrap Metal Dealers needed to be contained, in their opinion.
By 2009 British Transport Police was trying to police their property and started to make visits to scrap yards. They had set up working groups with other consortiums so whilst they checked scrap yards for their own property, they also started to look for other stolen items. It seemed reasonable. Except there was one slight technical hitch, it wasn’t lawful. Under the Railway and Transport Safety Act 2004 British Transport Police had jurisdiction to go anywhere on their own railway property and outside railway property only if on railway business. Searching for a church lead roof in a scrapyard without a warrant or the owner’s permission wasn’t lawful. However, BTP had the Scrap dealer’s ignorance on their side. All BTP needed to do was bluff they were “real police” with jurisdiction and the scrap dealers would cave in. A bit of false representation and no one would be any the wiser, it was for the great good, after all.
In 2012 the Home Secretary Theresa May was under pressure to stop the surge of metal theft taking place and to control these Scrap Metal dealers. However it would take at least a year to pass a new version of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, and they didn’t have that long. Something needed to be done straight away. In an attempt to limit the damages that were being caused to the infrastructure according to the daily media reports, it was decided the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 [LASPO] which was being read in Parliament, could be slightly adjusted or amended to read something about scrap dealers. If the scrap metal dealer hadn’t already been given the title of criminal, this amendment in an act that was solely for the sentencing and punishment of offenders, was the final nail in the coffin to their reputation. Section 146 taken out, adjusted to read that Scrap dealers couldn’t use cash and then re-enacted. It became law on the 3rd December 2012 until the new Scrap Metal Dealers Act became law on October 2013.
In the summer of 2012 BTP sent their uniformed Chief Inspector John Mc Bride to a BMRA meeting near Birmingham to tell their members and invited guests that they would be policing the new law change and that “There was a criminal element in the room”. This went down like a tonne of ingots, to the members that had come to the meeting to learn about the law changes, that had paid £1000 a year to become a member of the BMRA. They were not criminals. They had never been; they were there to comply. However, one man whose name was Alan Gowing had googled John McBride and had come to the meeting as a guest of a member to discover why BTP thought they had jurisdiction to come into his motor salvage business on March 2012 and demand to see his books, and after being threatened with arrest when he said they had no jurisdiction , was told he would be arrested under the scrap metal dealers Act 1964, knowing full well that he was licensed and registered under the vehicle crimes Act and not as a scrap dealer. Alan Gowing shouted out that it wasn’t them that were the criminals but that there was a chief Inspector John Mcbride of BTP on Bentlawyerandcoppers.com that had been convicted of drunk driving. This comment and his insistence that BTP were unlawfully policing scrap dealers and Motor salvage operators sealed his fate.
As the new amendment to LASPO came into force, a gang of six men wearing hoodies and jeans came to Gowing’s motor salvage yard. In their own police witness statement, they said all they could see were cars. BTP refused to identify themselves to Gowing. Gowing asked what they wanted, and they kept repeating they had authority but refused to say what authority, other than it was under the scrap metal dealers Act, a law that didn’t apply to motor salvage operators. Luckily for Gowing, he had the sense to film these men, thinking they were about to rob him.
The officers that refused to identify themselves to Gowing left, they went back to their offices and decided that Gowing would be the first to be arrested under the LASPO amendment. Eight days later BTP raided his fully licensed and registered motor salvage business called First Car Recycling with a warrant for FCR Metals Ltd, the scrapyard in a different unit in the same industrial estate. They ground off the bars from his security windows, jumped in through the window and dragged him out. He was beaten, handcuffed and hogtied in the back of a police dog van cage. He was driven into London in that cage still with his hands and feet tied together and then placed in cell 11. Where he was told men called Knuckle draggers would hurt him. One of his customers was also arrested, and he was beaten and held in cell 1, after the knuckle draggers finished attacking the customer whilst he slept on his cell bed, one knuckle dragger was recorded in a police notebook as saying “ That’s what you get for fucking with BTP mafia”.
Alan Gowing was taken into a room with no CCTV or audio and was assaulted by the six knuckle draggers. They asphyxiated him into unconsciousness and Alan believed he was raped with a baton, although BTP denied this( despite the fact that Alan needed surgery to his rectum.) Although there was no audio in this room, Gowing’s screams were caught on two other cameras in the Police station, and they lasted nearly 8 minutes.
Alan was taken to court for 14 criminal offences under the scrap metal dealers act despite them raiding a motor salvage operators and despite BTP not being constables with jurisdiction to break into his premises.
In 2013 the Judge threw out the case was the CPS had no evidence. In November 2013, it was taken into the High Court by way of case stated. In 2013 he had been raided by the Met Police, and the CPS failed to turn up to court. In 2014 He was dragged into the High Court by way of case stated and told there was overwhelming evidence. Six months later 13 of the 14 charges were dropped due to no evidence. In November 2014 and two years after being on bail, he was found not guilty of any crime, yet his health, his reputation, his family life and his businesses had been destroyed. From earning tens of thousands every day, he was now homeless and disabled unable to work due to the injuries he had received.
As more and more businesses were raided and Scrap dealers were being victimised unlawfully, the Scrap Metal Dealers Association was formed with the sole intention to Protect, educate, guide and support its members. We have never lost a case. In 2018 in the Royal courts of Justice, Gillian Temple [our president] represented Alan Gowing in a civil case brought against British Transport Police were during the trial the own police Barrister sent for the original warrants to be brought to the High Courtroom. When seen for the first time in court in 2018, it showed that the arresting BTP Officer had deliberately altered and tampered with the arrest and search warrants. This was not part of the original case but something our members feel very strongly about. They are demanding that this fraudulent activity be exposed and justice is seen to be done.
In June 2018 the verdict in Gowing’s high court claim was found in his favour. It was found that BTP had no jurisdiction in their unlawful raid in 2012. LASPO was faulty, everyone that was raided or arrested during that period by British Transport Police had their Human Rights violated. If they were lead to believe that BTP had the authority that was a fraudulent act. Is it a coincidence that BTP lost their funding to Police the SMDA 2013, we think not. Even now there are still issues with the SMDA 2013, that we as an Association will not stand for. The law is faulty despite the insistence of consultancy companies that wrote it, that it is our misunderstanding, not theirs. So far the courts have agreed with us.
The SMDA 2013 was rushed through by people that did not understand the industry and thought us too thick to ask or saw us as the criminals, that attitude has caused innocent victims. It might have reduced crime rates, but those rates are now on the increase as a new breed of criminal takes over the industry. Keep blaming the scrap dealer won’t work this time around. With so much damage done to the reputations and the symbiotic relationships that once were held with the industry and the Authorities, it needs to stop. Authorities need to accept their responsibilities to the damage they have caused and for us to move on together against the common enemy - the criminals that are stealing from our communities. #Itsnotus