The motive appears to have been a futile attempt to steal copper wire - in which they were unsuccessful because copper was replaced by optical fibres in BT's trunk network years ago.
About 13,000 homes and businesses lost all telephone service for a time, the main areas being hit in West Cumbria being Harrington, Cleator Moor, and parts of Whitehaven, though some customers in Lancaster were also affected. BT engineers working round the clock over the weekend made temporary repairs which restored service to all customers by Saturday afternoon, though it took until 2am on Sunday to complete permanent repairs. The damage also caused a reduction in network capacity that caused congestion for customers across a much wider area.
On that occasion, and by the grace of God, the leak was discovered and plugged before anything ignited the gas.
But there could easily have been a devastating explosion. In the early hours of 12th March last year, a bungalow near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire was destroyed by a gas leak caused by metal thieves who had stolen pipes in exactly the same sort of offence.
This kind of crime has to be stamped out, and that means getting a grip on the outlets which the criminal gangs who steal metal used to sell it.
“This is an excellent result and a fitting reward for the huge amount of effort put in by BT and the host of other companies and organisations that joined the campaign to encourage the government to act quickly and decisively, which is exactly what they have done."