Yet another metal theft post - the courts crack down

Yes, another post about beating the metal thieves.

As any regular reader of this blog may well have gathered, I have strong opinions about this. Both I and two of my brothers-in-law work or have worked in industries which are particularly affected by the plague of metal theft.

And since thousands of homes in West Cumbria had their telephone service cut off for a big slice of a weekend late last year, because incompetent would-be metal theives ripped out a section of fibre telephone cable near Workington in the hope that it was copper, I've felt even more strongly about it.

Which is why I'm pleased to note that one of the things I called for in earlier blog posts is starting to happen - the courts are starting to hand out sentences proportionate to the damage the metal thieves could potentially cause - and where people steal cable from the railway signal networks or BT's network that can mean causing the death of innocent people - rather than the value of the metal stolen.

Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, instructed prosecutors last month to take into account the full impact of metal theft crimes when those accused are brought before the courts.

Courts in Maidstone and Cambridge have recently acted on such recommendations from prosecutors and handed out prison sentences of up to three years for the theft of telephone cables.

​The Crown Court in Maidstone, Kent, heard how police were alerted by a dog walker who discovered the cable, with a scrap value of £4,180, which had been pulled up from two manhole covers.

It had been cut into sections and left in a field near Aylesford ready for transportation by the thieves.

Police spotted two men trying to run away from the field. Anthony Prebble was arrested nearby in possession of a pair of cable cutters, and Colin Wray was located in undergrowth by an infrared camera on the police helicopter.

Prebble pleaded guilty to theft and Wray was found guilty on the unanimous verdict of a jury. Both were sentenced to three years in prison.

Someone who rips a length of cable out of the BT network cannot know for certain what service they are cutting off. As we saw in the recent case in Cumbria, it it entirely possible that such an action can cut thousands of homes and businesses off for hours while BT engineers work round the clock to repair the damage. This could easily have resulted in deaths if a 999 call failed to get through to Cumbria Fire Service or the ambulance service.

I would have been even happier if the principle could be established that the general tariff for attacks on a communication or control network with potential to cause loss of life can carry a sentence of ten years inside. But at least a three year sentence, even with remission and parole, means a full year in prison and that sends the signal that this sort of offence is unacceptable.

In another case at Cambridge Crown Court, Arran Denzey and Richard Key were each sentenced to 18 months prison for stealing 180 metres of BT cable from alongside the A1. Cambridgeshire police found the cable, cutting equipment and a winch in the men’s van. Evidence gathered from the crime scene by the BT Metal Theft Task Force assisted the police to secure the convictions.

Luke Beeson, BT Security general manager for cable theft, said: “Courts are finally beginning to recognise the seriousness of this crime and are handing down stiffer sentences."

About time too, but this is welcome!


Jim said…
Chris, do you know if smart water is currently or is planned to be used by BT and the rail network?

If not, it would be a good deterrent to the thieves, and would help to ensure the safety of everyone else.

If the thieves are aware that its used then it makes the metal hard to sell to even the worst dealer. Im not sure of the cost implications of this, though Im certain the cost is far greater in terms of lost lives.
Chris Whiteside said…
Yes, you're absolutely right, and Smart water is indeed being used to defend the BT network. This has already resulted is a number of people involved with metal theft from BT being successfully prosecuted.
Jim said…
thanks Chris,

That's good to hear, and better to advertise. I think this way as I really do think prevention is better than cure.

Whilst all the measures of the courts are good news, they only form part of the deterrent. Other parts include, why steal it if you cant sell it, and If you are still daft enough to go to the personal effort of stealing it, then due to smart water technology - You will be caught, prosecuted and imprisoned.

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