Metal thieves risking their lives in Gloucestershire
THIEVES are risking life and limb by stealing copper worth as little as £15 from Gloucestershire power points.
But the good news is that increased security has led to a fall this year in the number of thefts from electricity sub-stations in the county.
Figures released by Western Power Distribution, which is responsible for electricity infrastructure such as pylons, cables and sub-stations, show there were 40 incidents in 2011. So far this year, there have been 15.
Peter Lowe, the company's security manager, said it had stepped up the use of measures such as CCTV, fencing, barbed or even electrified wire, patrols and intruder alarms.
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He said the use of the forensically traceable solution, Smartwater, on its equipment had also helped to deter thieves.
But, across the Midlands in the last four years, 10 intruders have died and others have had to have limbs amputated due to electrocution.
Mr Lowe said: "Safety is our number one priority, which is why we have put a raft of measures in place to deter metal theft but we have to remain vigilant.
"Perpetrators are prepared to dice with death because of the extremely high voltages involved with our equipment and for very small reward.
"They're also putting at risk the lives of our engineers who have to repair and replace infrastructure that may have been left in an unsafe condition and the lives of innocent members of the public who could become victims."
An example of problems at small sub-stations, in areas including Cheltenham have been people stealing eight metres of copper cable, for which they would receive no more than £25 if they could sell it.
And Mr Lowe said the thieves were costing the company much larger sums of money in terms of the repairs and causing power loss to its customers.
Speaking yesterday at a sub-station in Northway Lane, Tewkesbury, he said Western Power was pleased with the reduced number of thefts in Gloucestershire so far this year.
It was due, he said, to it having forged close links with the police and scrap metal dealers, who have been issued with a booklet and poster to help them easily identify the company's cables. The press conference heard that one of the most serious incidents in Gloucestershire happened in 2010 at Frampton-on-Severn. Thieves climbed up pylons to cut live overhead wires and left them dangling across playing fields. They stole five tonnes worth of copper, worth about £25,000.
Arrests have since been made and alleged offenders are due to make court appearances shortly.