A BICESTER business has backed a police campaign aimed at tackling metal thefts.

Thames Valley Police has introduced a new scheme so anyone who wants to sell scrap metal to a dealer will have to provide a photo identification including their current address.

The move is part of the police-led Operation Tornado which aims to make it easier for officers to trace sellers of stolen metal and prosecute dealers who turn a blind eye when offered metal that has been stolen.

As the price of metals has increased in the past few years, thieves have struck at railways, churches, electricity depots, homes and businesses across the county.

Among the targets was St Nicholas Church in Tackley, which has replaced lead on the roof with stainless steel after three separate thefts.

In Banbury criminal gangs stole metal items worth £800,000 from a single Banbury industrial estate in the past year, while last summer 2011, telephone and Internet users in Eynsham and Chinnor were cut off when cables were stolen.

Scrap metal merchant LC Hughes, in London Road, is one of the dealers already signed up to the scheme.

Compliance manager Gar-eth Hughes said: “Hopefully it’s a deterrent to stop people stealing metal and then trying to get rid of stolen items in scrap yards.

“This scheme requires the person selling to come into the office with their driving licence or passport.

“We have noticed a reduction in the number of people coming to the yard in the first week – although it could have been down to the weather.

“We have had to turn people away who did not have their ID. A lot of people don’t know it’s in force until they get down to the site. I think it will scare a lot of people away.”

The initiative was piloted by British Transport Police and local police forces in the North East of England, and has been rolled out across the Thames Valley region after a “significant drop in the levels of offending” was seen in the trial area.

Det Insp Ian Wood, who is leading the operation across the Thames Valley, said: “Operation Tornado is one of a number of measures currently being explored to restrict the sale and movement of stolen metal.

“It has been designed not to inhibit those dealers that operate legitimate businesses, but to remove unscrupulous dealers, who operate outside the law.

“We are hoping all registered scrap metal dealers in the region will sign up to be involved to help fight the stolen metal trade and make it more difficult for thieves to make money by targeting our communities for metal.”

All scrap dealers in the county have been contacted to join the voluntary scheme. If they do not adopt the ID checks system, police said it is likely they will face more frequent inspections.

Ian Hetherington, director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association, said: “The measures are sensible and provide the basis for reform of the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act, which we want.”