Police launch national hunt for coin forgers

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The Independent Online
COUNTERFEIT pounds 1 coins are being mass produced and distributed throughout the country by several gangs of forgers.

Unprecedented numbers of the coins have been reported in the past two months. The problem is most severe in London and the North-east of England.

Officers from the counterfeit currency section of the National Criminal Intelligence Unit have contacted police forces throughout Britain in an attempt to trace the forgers. Several people have been arrested and equipment confiscated.

Many of the fake coins are high quality, which is unusual for such relatively low-value objects. Most are made from a soft alloy usually containing lead. They are then plated or painted. The forgers usually rely on the public not bothering to check whether coins are genuine. They are also producing less sophisticated copies for use in vending and change machines.

The Automatic Vending Association of Britain said in a recent letter to to its members: 'Counterfeit pounds 1 coins are beginning to plague the industry . . . There is suspicion that a factory is in operation somewhere in the country. If we can get a lead as to its locality we can tip off the police and hopefully get it closed down.'

London Underground will start upgrading ticket machines with special anti-counterfeit models from the end of the year. It currently loses more than pounds 20,000 a year from fake coins. Genuine coins are obtained by placing a counterfeit one into a machine, then pressing the reject button and getting a new pounds 1. The new machines will eject the coin that is placed into it rather than giving out a new one.

A spokesman for the police counterfeit currency unit said the actual value of the counterfeiting was small compared with the problem of forged bank notes, but it is far easier to pass off fake coins. He said: 'There's a series of fake pounds 1 coins being used at the moment - it's been a phenomenon in the last few months. Organised criminals are almost certainly responsible because you need a degree of expertise and equipment to do the counterfeiting properly.'

An officer from the unit added: 'The manufacture of these coins started as a local problem, but it has spread to become a national one.'

Although the police and the Royal Mint claim that only criminals with technical knowledge can produce counterfeit coins, crude copies are not difficult to make. This was illustrated in a court case last November when Kathleen Stewart, a 45-year-old housewife from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, used information from books in her local library to make moulds for pounds 1 coins. She began making fake coins and established a distribution network, Newcastle Crown Court was told.