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Alleged scrap metal thieves caught

BY MARK CUMMINGS Senior staff reporter cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 30, 2011    

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FROME, Westmoreland — The Westmoreland police have taken three men into custody in connection with the theft of copper cables valued at an estimated $15 million from the Frome sugar estate in the parish.

Details were not readily available on the weekend, but a police source told the Observer that the men were apprehended on Friday during a police operation spanning several Westmoreland communities.

"They were arrested in connection with power cables stolen between May 23 and May 25 from the communities of Paul Island, Belle Island Mountain, Albion Farms and Blue Castle," the police source said.

Friday, Victor Wright, operations manager at Frome, hailed the arrest of the trio, especially given recent efforts by the estate to nab persons who steal vital estate equipment and machinery from the property in order to supply them to the scrap metal trade.

"This is a significant breakthrough for us because we have been losing millions of dollars' worth of equipment and materials in recent months," he explained.

The operations manager noted that theft of estate property had impacted negatively on output during the just-concluded 2010-2011 sugar crop at Frome, the island's largest sugar processing facility.

"At one point the crop was disrupted because they stole power lines, and even a metal door at one of the hoists that we use to lift the farmers' cane," Wright pointed out.

Other items stolen include parts of bridges, transformer parts and poles.

The growing trade in scrap metal has been widely blamed for the theft of machinery and equipment from utility companies and the island's sugar estates.

In 2009, the sugar manufacturing sector reportedly suffered losses of more than $100 million to scrap metal thieves. This prompted agriculture minister Dr Christopher Tufton to call for regulation of the trade, which provided the country with an estimated US$220 million in export earnings in 2007.

While commending the police on the arrests of the three alleged scrap metal thieves on Friday, the agriculture minister renewed his call for regulation.

"It cannot continue as it is now, in its present form; it has to be regulated," Dr Tufton told the Observer on the weekend, noting that legitimate businesses have also been victims of the trade.

He added, however, that he was aware that Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda, under whom the regulation of the scrap metal industry falls, has also expressed concern about aspects of the trade.

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