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THIEVES who steal recycling sacks from people’s drives will be prosecuted and dragged through the courts, a council boss has warned.

White bags, which residents leave out for Cory Environmental to pick up on behalf of Southend Council, are being reported stolen with increasing frequency across Southend and other parts of south Essex.

The thefts are mainly down to the high re-sale price of textiles.

Steven Crowther, Southend Council’s waste team manager, said the council was treating the matter seriously and urged police and prosecutors to make an example of the thieves.

He said: “We always push for arrests to go to court because it acts as a deterrent to others who think it’s easy pickings.

“When these cases have been taken to court in the past, they’ve been challenged by offenders who have said, if it’s rubbish left on the highway then they have the right to take it.

“But there is case law to say it’s the intention of the person who leaves it out that’s important and, if it’s been left out in a council sack, it’s classed as theft from the council.”

Textile sacks are collected by Cory Environmental on behalf of the council and taken to a reprocessing centre in Crayford before being sold on.

Mr Crowther said the going rate for textiles is currently £600 a tonne and he believes this is why there has been a rise in the number of thefts.

He said: “It’s a growing problem because of the market rate, which is quite high at the moment. If it went down to £200, perhaps they wouldn’t think it was worth it.

“But it costs us money because, for one thing, the sacks are quite expensive and Cory also base what they charge us on the amount of return they get on selling the clothes.

“People don’t like it either.

They say they’ve spent time putting the stuff in the bags for the council and then unscrupulous people come and whip it away.

“They get very irate because they say they don’t put them out for those people to make money.”