The shocking figures speak for themselves. In 2009 there were about 100 reported metal thefts per month according to the Energy Networks Association, which represents the electricity and gas network and utility companies. Two years later, in 2011, that figure has risen to 700 thefts per month, and in one calendar month—March this year—it rose to a record 900 reported thefts. We can contrast that with March 2009, when there were around 70 thefts. That is an increase of more than 1000% in two years.
The Association of Chief Police Officers put the annual cost of metal theft to the communications, energy, transport and water industries at £770 million per annum. It is not just electricity that is being targeted, however. The Energy Networks Association and Electricity North West both believe organised crime is involved and thieves are stealing from telecommunications, gas and water infrastructure, rail and tramways, local authority street furniture, such as manhole covers and gates, housing, schools and other buildings. BT reported in October last year that it had had 900 cable theft attacks on its network in the previous six months, affecting more than 100,000 customers. Virgin Media says that the cutting of cables in Teesside alone has cost £166,000 and 1,700 stolen back-up batteries have cost the company a further £680,000. The British Transport Police estimate that over the last three years cable theft has cost the rail industry £43 million and led to more than 16,000 hours of delays. There is evidence that the theft of gates from railway stations is leaving rail networks dangerously exposed. Metal thefts affecting the supply of gas equipment have resulted in fires and explosions.