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BT and Police Confirm Sharp Reduction in UK Copper Cable Crime

Monday, Jan 28th, 2013 (1:12 am) - Score 885

The battle to tackle copper cable and metal theft appears to finally be turning. BT informs ISPreview.co.uk that there was a 50% fall in incidents and a 24% reduction in faults pertaining to malicious damage of their UK phone and broadband ISP network last year.

An official report from the British Transport Police (BTP) similarly found that 2012 saw “a decrease in reported metal theft of 52%“, which marks a significant improvement given that metal theft across all industries is often estimated to cost the United Kingdom almost £1bn per year. The reason for all this is multifaceted and stems from a growing and coordinated approach towards tackling the problem.

BT in particular uses two key methods: SmartWater, an invisible solution that forensically “tags” (sprays) metal thieves and the copper cable. The second is RABIT, a cable alarming system that connects with the police and ISPs to warn when and where a cable cut has occurred and is said to be “directly affecting criminal behaviour“. But those are only the tip of the iceberg.

Crimestoppers have made various efforts to target the problem. A new national police Metal Theft Task Force has been established. The introduction of cashless trading on the back of government legislation to target the trade in illegal metals. Better security at BT exchanges and street cabinets. Not to mention various other police operations, such as Operation Tornado, which aggressively targeted rogue scrap metal dealers.

On top of all this the forthcoming Scrap Metal Dealers Bill 2012-13 (Private Members’ Bill) should, if it can get approved, further help to clamp down on the problem.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester said recently:

Heroic efforts have been made in the last year by the British Transport Police and the civil police, local authorities, trade associations, reputable scrap metal dealers, the churches, the War Memorials Trust, the energy companies, Network Rail and the train operating companies and the Home Office. They have all worked tirelessly to bring down the incidence of metal theft, catch the offenders and ensure convictions.

There have been numerous press reports of successful prosecutions and convictions. In my own area recently, we saw the conviction of all eight members of a Romanian gang which had travelled from Birmingham to the Cotswolds to steal engineering cable from the railway worth nearly half a million pounds on the line between Evesham and Moreton-in-Marsh-two towns not known for their incidence of high crime.”

Despite the huge improvements it’s worth noting, on BT’s telecoms network at least, that the level of related faults are nowhere near as down as incidents. BTOpenreach suggests that this is because the gangs which steal their cable are significantly more organised and are stealing larger cables with heavier equipment. They are likely to have a pre-identified disposal route and have a significant amount of knowledge about the area and network.

Ultimately metal theft has many victims. It can leave thousands of people stuck without phone and internet access for several days or disrupt electricity supplies and often results in travel delays when vital metal is stolen from the national transport network (e.g. railways).

Related theft is often fuelled by the high price of raw commodities, such as copper, and we’re heartened to see that some real headway is now being made to stamp the problem out.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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