A SCRAP metal dealer has been found guilty of taking in stolen metal at his scrap yard, including crematorium plaques which he cut up into small pieces to try and disguise them.
Joseph Collier, 72, of Woodhall Drive, Dulwich, was found guilty on Wednesday (October 1), of three counts of possession of criminal property, one count of disguising criminal property and one count of attempting to receive stolen goods after a six-day trial at Croydon Crown Court.
Police raided Collier's DSM Scrap Metal Yard in Bensham Lane, Croydon in May 2012 as part of a London-wide crackdown on metal theft, where they also discovered a stolen bronze dragon and a statue of Jesus.
Police were told about Collier's yard after Trading Standards officers from Croydon suspected stolen metal was being accepted there.
When officers entered the scrap yard, they found several bags and boxes containing hundreds of memorial plaques that had been stolen from cemeteries across the south-east, some marked with SmartWater - a liquid that has a unique forensic 'code' that allows police to trace their origin.
Many of the plaques had been cut up into small pieces in an attempt to disguise them.
Officers also discovered a large bronze dragon statue that had been stolen from an address in Teddington, as well as a statue of Jesus, stolen from Putney Vale Cemetery.
In order to identify where the plaques had been stolen from, officers from Croydon spent several hours painstakingly piecing them back together.
Collier was arrested and charged with offences the following day and was bailed pending his court appearance.
CCTV footage at the yard showed Collier overseeing the cutting-up of the memorial plaques by his machines - plaques that he claimed at court, that he had no knowledge of.
In March 2013, suspicious that Collier was continuing to receive stolen goods whilst on bail and awaiting his trial, police contacted UK Power Networks, who assisted them with an undercover operation where an officer sold brand-new copper wiring to him, making it obvious to Collier that the goods were stolen as he was accepting it.
Sergeant George Shannon, of Croydon police station said:"I can only describe Collier's attitude throughout this whole process as brazen.
"He tried to deny any knowledge of receiving stolen items, but some of the memorial plaques even had the mud and wall plugs attached where they'd been prized from the graves.
"There was little doubt that he knew they were stolen and he had absolutely no regard for the law.
"His actions, in accepting stolen metal, have fuelled other criminal activity by thieves stealing metal to make a quick profit by selling it to unscrupulous scrap dealers like Collier.
"Metal theft has a huge impact on society - be it through delays on train networks where cabling has been stolen, or the emotional effects associated with the theft of memorial plaques.
"The majority of registered scrap metal dealers are operating correctly, but we will continue to target those who don't and will bring the full force of the law against them.
"Now that he's been found guilty of these offences, we will certainly be considering further action against Collier under the Proceeds of Crime Act to look at confiscating any assets he has gained through his criminal activity."
Collier will be sentenced on November 3.