17/05/2012 03:27 BST | Updated 16/07/2012 06:12 BST

Police Raid London Metal Thieves

A bronze Chinese dragon statue weighing more than a tonne was among a large haul of suspected stolen objects seized by police during a raid at a scrap metal business, Scotland Yard said.

The £3,500 ornament, which was stolen from a residential back garden, was recovered along with a bronze statue of Christ, around 150 memorial plaques taken from churches and crematoriums, copper cabling and £20,000 in cash.

Police swooped on the dealer's yard in south west London earlier this week as part of the force's latest crackdown on the illegal scrap metal trade being increasingly exploited by organised criminal networks.

A series of scrap metal yards were targeted by officers across the capital on Monday and Tuesday resulting in 10 arrests and a number of stolen cars being recovered by the Met.

Police identified that around 40 plaques recovered from the yard in south west London have been stolen from a Beckenham crematorium. Each is estimated to be worth £50-100 each.

The distinctive bronze dragon statue, which was set in concrete and one of a pair, was also traced to a couple who had reported it stolen from their home in Teddington.

Two metal cutting machines were also found at the business as police executed a search warrant.

The owner of the yard and an employee have been charged in connection with the raid.

Meanwhile, four men wearing BT high visibility vests were arrested after being spotted by a member of the public dragging around 450 metres of cable down a street in Barnet.

The suspected thieves, who produced apparent BT related job sheet documents and passes, were later bailed.

Referring to the large haul of seized goods, acting Inspector James Coomber, the operation co-ordinator, said: "This represents a significant find in our ongoing efforts to target metal theft.

"The majority of scrap metal dealers who are legitimate support our targeting of those acting outside of the law. Those contributing to the thriving illegal trade can expect regular operations to search, detect and arrest those profiting from it."

Four separate operations focusing on the illegal metal trade have been carried out by the Met in the past eight months with almost 500 scrap metal businesses inspected and searched.

The crackdown has led to 60 arrests, seen numerous stolen vehicles recovered and led to a significant number of scrap metal licences being revoked, the force said.

Metal theft is estimated to cost the economy £700 million a year while around 100 related offences are reported to police in the capital each week, according to Scotland Yard.

Criminals are targeting an increasing variety of objects ranging from cabling, drain covers and lift panels from housing estates, to war and cemetery memorial plaques, children's playground slides and fire escape stairs.