Thousands of drain covers stolen for scrap

LONDON (Reuters) - High scrap prices have led to a sharp rise in the theft of manholes and drain covers, fuelling a boom in metal theft estimated to cost Britain hundreds of million pounds a year, council leaders said on Thursday.

High scrap metal prices are prompting thieves to steal manhole covers and aluminium road signs. File photo Radu Sigheti

Although prices have fallen from record highs in recent months, gangs hoping to make a quick profit have taken thousands of the covers, worth at least 300 pounds each, from across the country.

Thieves have also stolen copper cables from railway signals, lead from church roofs and aluminium road signs. Live electricity cables, rail tracks and even bronze statues have also been taken to be sold for scrap.

The Local Government Association, which represents 466 councils, said covers and grates made of cast iron or lead should be replaced by ductile steel ones with little scrap value.

“It is disgusting that mindless thieves are stooping this low..,” said Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s environment board. “The drain cover thefts cost taxpayers millions of pounds while exposing drivers and pedestrians to injury or death.”

In Surrey alone, thieves have taken 268 covers since April, while 220 were stolen in four days in Warwickshire. On Tuesday, 20 went missing in Northampton and thieves took 42 in Slough last month, according to the GLA.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said metal theft has risen by 150 percent in the last two years.

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Crowther, ACPO’s specialist on metal theft, said the thefts have caused delays on the railways, left people without a phone line and hit schools and churches.

“This is far from being a victimless crime,” he said. “Thousands of people have seen their community facilities stolen or damaged by thieves looking for a quick gain.”

Police have vowed to crack down on the problem. They could be helped by reports last week of sluggish demand for ferrous scrap pushing down prices.