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Copper Thieves Shun Lockdown, Cut Broadband in West Cumbria

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 (4:01 pm) - Score 11,809

Police have launched an investigation after hundreds of homes in Maryport, West Cumbria (England), were left without access to vital broadband connections following the theft of copper telecoms cables from Openreach’s (BT) local network during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis.

Such criminals rarely have any regard for the often significant impact they can have on local residents and businesses, particularly during the current health crisis, where maintaining internet connectivity is more vital than usual. Metal thefts like this usually occur through organised gangs and often target critical infrastructure in areas where they know the police response is likely to be slower.

In this case the incident is believed to have occurred at around 10:30pm last night. Sadly repairing this sort of damage is neither easy nor quick and requires a significant commitment of engineers, which will be taking resources away from other critical areas during the COVID-19 situation.

A spokesperson for Cumbria police said: “We’ve been in contact with BT and attended the scene … cables have been dug up and copper stolen.”

A Spokesperson for Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We can confirm that an overnight cable theft has caused damage to our network between Maryport and Workington that is affecting broadband service to some of our customers in the area.

Our engineers are currently on site and will be working through the night to fix the damage as quickly as possible in order to restore full service. We would ask any customers that are experiencing problems with their service to raise a fault with their communication provider so that we’re aware.”

Openreach has a partnership with Crimestoppers, which means they tend to offer a reward of up to £1,000 for information on these sorts of cable thefts (when it leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible), although we don’t know if that reward applies here. If you have any information on this incident, please contact them on 0800 555 111 or use the online form – everyone stays 100% anonymous (information passed directly to the police will not qualify for a reward).

We should point out that optical fibre isn’t worth anything to such thieves but copper can carry a good price among dodgy scrap metal dealers (note: replacing copper with fibre is not itself a total solution as the criminals often can’t tell the difference, until after they’ve caused the damage). The hope is that the lockdown might at least make it easier to catch the culprits.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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29 Responses
  1. Herve Shango says:

    I find it extremely odd (weird) that there are thieves out there willing to cut or mess up the internet infrastructure for their own selfish gains. Very odd indeed.

    1. Oneeyeopen says:

      Its not odd to these imbeciles Hearve – to these people.. its normal business as usual, with disregard to anything & anyone bar themselves. Outrageous!.. bring back corporal punishment for these mindless yobs.

    2. david says:

      A few years ago some yobs took out our local EE tower knocking it out for 2 weeks – for them as well.


  2. Darren McCoy says:

    It’s probably the same twats that are burning down 5G towers.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Alas no, the copper thieves aren’t so dumb as to video their criminal exploits and then boast about it online. I’d venture that the anti-5G conspiracy theorists are also potentially much more dangerous as they believe that such activity is justified, when it is not (copper thieves know what they’re doing is wrong).

      We’ve seen how such extreme views can escalate in the past and the next step is often to physically assault people who simply disagree with them.

    2. Tony says:

      More than likely.

  3. M says:

    At least the country is starting to learn that copper is more useful to thieves rather than actual internet service consumers as full fibre is the complete opposite of both points. The sooner it is all swapped over the better.

    1. dave says:

      That won’t stop stupid thieves (is there another kind?) from ripping out fibre before realising it’s worthless.

  4. Ferrocene Cloud says:

    Deliberate attacks on critical infrastructure should result in very long jail terms. It’s beyond stealing a few pounds of copper wiring or beating up a phone mast, it’s damaging vital links and endangering lives.

    At least copper theft can be solved by fibre replacement. Until the next conspiracy theory that fibre somehow causes pandemics.

    1. dave says:

      Of course. 5G spreads Corona but has limited coverage. Once fibre is everywhere it’ll be able to get into every home at the speed of light!

    2. david says:

      No “dave” it does not. Corona virus came from some idiot lab tech splitting the stuff they got from a bat. Read the internet while you are on it – you might actually learn something.

      If you are worried about 5G there are some steps you can take right now at home to prevent getting cancer.

      Step 1 – rip out and throw away your Microwave (it has more radiation power than any 5G mast ever will)
      Step 2 – implant said microwave into the side of your head

    3. dave says:

      *woosh* – somebody didn’t understand my comment 🙂

    4. John says:

      “At least copper theft can be solved by fibre replacement.”

      In the long term yes.

      The only viable solution immediately is replace the stolen copper with more copper unfortunately.

  5. Ali Francis says:

    Thanks Mark!

    Have you seen this sort of thing happen before? How long will it take to repair, do you think? It’s been a huge inconvenience last night and today!

    1. Ashley says:

      Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when this happened to where I live about 8 years ago, it was around 2 weeks before everyone was back online (although granted, some people got service back relatively quickly).


    2. Steve says:

      This sort of theft has been going on for years. It certainly was when I was at BT and I left 20 years ago. You don’t see quite as much these days as there is a significant fibre presence already replacing many of these old, large copper cables

  6. FibreBubble says:

    >>“We can confirm that an overnight cable theft has caused damage to our network between Maryport and Workington”

    If its between two exchanges it could be cut fibres rather than copper.

    1. Kevin matthews says:

      I was a victim of the sudden outage last night despite having full fibre of 900mb and fibre phone, there is no contact number after 9pm to report a faults even logging into my bt account and entering my phone number to fault check, bt website did not see a fault at midnight, it went down just before 9pm and came back on for me around 5pm tonight, as for the comment about the exchanges maryport is a sub exchange of Workington, the alleged point of cut is on the edge of Workington near the river bridge, the fibre may not be fat but is very fast glad I back to 856mb dl and 117 ul keeps my son quiet

    2. 125us says:

      There’ll be copper and fibre in the same ducts. The old copper cables between exchanges were of a heavier gauge than is used in the last mile and so they’re presumably more valuable. The thieves aren’t super careful about what they do and just chop everything.

    3. Ribble says:

      2000 pair copper and 240 fibre cable were cut apparently

    4. CarlT says:

      Surprised you’re not saying that if it was only a copper cable and no trace of fibre were present all would be fine, Partial, ignoring that the fibre was clearly collateral damage to the copper.

  7. CarlT says:

    What are phone services running on if the copper is cut, Mark?

    Are we at the stage now where fixed line phone service is so inconsequential copper cuts are broadband outages?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Phone services weren’t mentioned, only broadband, and there isn’t enough public information about the incident itself to know whether or not they too were disrupted (we can assume they were but I have seen similar events in the past where the damage only affected DSL or phone but not both). Depends on the specifics of the damage.

      On the flip side, yes I do think we’re also now well into the territory of “broadband outages” being considered the primary description.

    2. A_Builder says:

      It would depend on where the POTS and ADSL services were provisioned from.

      Either could be in the main exchange or sub exchange. And in rural and semi rural they often are not in the same physical place.

      Often why rural ADSL is sooooo poor you think it is in the local tiny exchange building and it isn’t. The GenI ADSL racks were not small or subtle.

  8. Daichroic says:

    I heard a story about the old Coutaulds rayon factory here in Flint North Wales, years ago. The salvage crew were inside dismantling the plant machinery. All at once the power went off. They dashed outside to check the field outside where the main power cable was buried. They found a hole dug in the ground. At the bottom was an axe buried in the high voltage cable, and a pair of wellies. Presumably the thief had been blown out of the wellies and hadn’t stopped running.
    Pity it didn’t happen to this one!

    1. MikeP says:

      Power to a biggish swathe of SE London got taken out some years back when there was a fire on a cable bridge across the River Darenth. Cable thieves were blamed, but as it was 132KV distribution there was some incredulity there. I think the final conclusion was that it was vandals setting a fire on the bridge (the access gates weren’t secure).

      It took every mobile genny in the country to provide emergency supply.

  9. Sue says:

    Talktalk off in the Eden Valley too. There’ll always be others who look to profit from a crisis unfortunately

  10. ashy says:

    Bloody jam eaters !!!

  11. t0m5k1 says:

    For those who think this is odd should read some of the copper thefts that happen in South Africa!
    Those ejits will pull down any cable live or not just to get the copper, there’s even videos on YouTube showing a numpty climbing a pylon to get the cable, frying himself in the process so his mate can then grab/cut the cable!

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