THREE men have been arrested after a raid on a Southampton scrap metal yard.

Police and Environment Agency officials swooped on the premises in First Avenue along with homes in the Lordshill, Coxford and Redbridge areas of the city, as part of a national initiative aimed at stopping the trade in stolen metal.

Operation Tornado was launched in response to increasing numbers of thefts of power cables and railway cables, as well metals like lead being ripped off school buildings and churches.

A stolen power washer was recovered from the scrap yard in yesterday’s raid, while a number of suspected stolen power tools and plant equipment were also seized.

Suspected drugs were found at two of the residential addresses.

One of the arrested trio - a 35-year-old Southampton man detained on suspicion of money laundering and scrap metal offences - has since been released on bail until January 24.

Meanwhile, George Maunders, 32, of Old Redbridge Road, has been charged with going equipped for theft. He has been released on bail to appear before Southampton Magistrates Court on December 7.

Wayne Eastman, 27 of Plough Way, Andover, has been charged with possession of cannabis and going equipped for theft. He too was released on bail, and is now due at Southampton Magistrates Court on December 12.

Operation Tornado began in Hampshire in June, since when scrap yards have had to take ID for anyone being paid for metal in cash.

New legislation is due to come into force next month banning scrap dealers from paying cash for metal.

Jackie Wilson, who is leading the initiative in Hampshire, said: “"The majority of scrap yards have signed up to Operation Tornado and these measures have helped to achieve 30 per cent reduction in metal theft reduction in metal since June.

"Those that continue to turn a blind eye to those who trade in stolen metal will be subject to intensive police activity.

"Metal theft has a direct effect on many people’s lives with items such as roof lead being taken leading to damage and costly repairs for the many churches, schools and business who have been effected.

“Thieves have even been known to steal power cables and railway cables causing transport delays and electricity blackouts in some areas. The theft of catalytic converters off cars has also been a problem for motorists."