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Fake Engineers Steal Batteries from Openreach Street Cabinets

Thursday, July 9th, 2020 (1:36 am) - Score 8,219
street cabinet fttc fibre broadband

The Worcester Crown Court (WCC) has this week convicted three men after they dressed up as fake engineers in order to steal vital backup batteries from Openreach’s (BT) street cabinets, which supply broadband and phone connectivity to homes and businesses. The thefts took place across the UK.

Openreach’s cabinets, particularly their DSLAMs for Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL) based superfast broadband services, usually include several small batteries for backup in case of a power outage. We should point out that removing these doesn’t typically disrupt the service itself, unless a mains power outage were to occur at the same time.

NOTE: The case revealed that each cabinet houses £500 worth of batteries and gangs reportedly stole £3m worth of these in 2019.

Back in 2012 BT’s outspoken former CTO, Peter Cochrane, warned that “once the local bandits have recognised that there is a car battery in the bottom, you can bet your bottom dollar that a crowbar will be out” (here). At the time the operator dismissed this, before adding that the units were “not something that could be readily adapted to power anything elseAll of our cabinets are highly secure and fully alarmed so that if there were any attempted unauthorised entry – we would know immediately.”

Fast forward eight years and here we have a gang – Dean Davies (22), Maurice Davies (33) and Michael Smith (21) – doing exactly what Cochrane warned about. Apparently, the trio of criminals worn high visibility jackets in order to make them look more authentic, before proceeding to carry out multiple thefts in broad daylight. The batteries were then sold on for scrap.

The court ultimately sent Dean to jail for two years. Meanwhile his brother, Maurice, and Michael were sentenced to 12 months in jail, albeit suspended for 2 years (both were also ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and given 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days).

Nicholas Berry, Prosecuting, said (Stourbridge News):

“The thefts were motivated by the scrap value of the lead contained in the batteries in the green Openreach fibre optic broadband boxes located at the side of footpaths and roads which provide high speed broadband services to businesses and homes.”

Obviously, the cost of such batteries doesn’t factor in the other elements, such as the cost in terms of lost staff time to replace them, disruption to customers and so forth. Openreach is understood to have rectified problems caused by each theft within the space of about 1 hour and the company has also invested in new IT systems to help identify such events.

Apparently, all of this began to come to light after one of the vans used in the thefts rammed a police vehicle in Stourbridge on 1st May (NEVER a good idea). The van, which was being driven on false plates and contained 43 batteries, was eventually stopped but two males escaped. Evidence inside the van enabled the police to trace similar events going back several years (seemingly covering more than 200 batteries).

On 5th June 2019 a red Ford Transit van was stopped containing all three defendants and 36 batteries. Clearly some people never learn.

Leave a Comment
21 Responses
  1. Archie says:

    Why would these ever be a target for theft? Bizarre!

    1. Qqq says:

      Because of the lead. It was explained by The Prosecution in the article.
      “The thefts were motivated by the scrap value of the lead contained in the batteries in the green Openreach fibre optic broadband boxes located at the side of footpaths and roads which provide high speed broadband services to businesses and homes.”

    2. Archie says:

      No sh*t. I can read. It’s a rhetorical question. One which you’ve ended up answering.

  2. Paul says:

    I think he just can’t wrap his head around the fact that a regular person i.e Archie, you, me would not even think about stealing them as we all need and use out internet and phones. But then you could say, why would someone burn down a phone mast. Clearly people are much different than us.

  3. Anom says:

    They will go to extreme lengths to steal batteries, we’ve had them turn up and just start emptying our waste battery box which was stored just inside our workshop, they even told a fitter they had been told to collect them but I knew better. On another occasion three off them turned up in a van with stickers on that matched our usual battery disposal company saying they now collected regularly, even when I phoned said company they carried on insisting they were legit, the biggest giveaway was what company in their right mind would send three people to do the job of one. Pure scum, who don’t care what mess, problems or damage they cause, they just want the money, which is about £500 a ton.

  4. CarlT says:

    Surprised no-one has tried stealing an entire cabinet.

    They totally have, haven’t they?

  5. Granola says:

    If the cabinet had no battery (or it was U/S) at the time of a power outage would it cause a DLM reset ? We had a power cut and I got a DLM reset ages ago, probably a coincidence or was somebody so desperate for a DLM reset they did the cabinet and the electricity substation at the same time ?

    1. CarlT says:


  6. Burble says:

    Laws on how scrapyards operate should have sorted this out, unfortunately some scrapyards ignore these laws.

    1. LT says:

      A lot of the people who deal in stolen copper and lead tend to export their ill gotten gains now to Eastern Europe.

  7. John says:

    It wouldn’t cause a DLM reset no.

    DLM would see nothing if the cabinet was running on power and it would simply disconnect the line if running on batteries

  8. Buggerlugz says:

    Seems like they got off very lightly considering how much of a living they made from this escapade. Then again, when was the last time the courts actually gave the length of sentence deserved.

  9. joe says:

    Another upside to full Fib. The copper can’;t be nicked and nor can the batteries (model dependant) …

    1. A_Builder says:

      The other upside of full fibre is that so little power is needed in the fringes of the network.

      As you say no copper to nick – although it will take a while for the scumbags to stop cutting bits of fibre and then discovering that they are valueless…..

      I recall BT/OR uses close to 1% of UK total power consumption big saving a freeing up grid capacity for BEV’s etc.

    2. joe says:

      “As you say no copper to nick – although it will take a while for the scumbags to stop cutting bits of fibre and then discovering that they are valueless…..”

      Sadly v true. Might be a danger of displacing more theft to the railways which is far more dangerous…

      2.5 TWh /year on the last figures I saw but thats BT and EE combined not just BTs. Plenty of room for big savings though…forecasts were talking of 40-60%.

    3. zxcvbnm says:

      The hedges around here have been full of giant wooden cable reels of outdoor fibre. All balanced on top of the hedges. Easiest thing in the world to roll it into a van in the night. I was quite tempted but not sure what I’d use a km of outdoor fibre for and might be a little obvious on ebay.

  10. stiffer jail sentences says:

    10 year jail, suspended for 25 years, if your naughty in those 25, go straight to jail do not pass go then spend 10 years thinking about it, I think that would focus the mind and attitude.

    1. 125us says:

      It’s never worked anywhere it’s been tried for the simple reason that people don’t commit crime expecting to get caught.

      We already have the biggest prison population in Europe. Countries with a more enlightened approach see fewer crimes and much less reoffending.

  11. adslmax says:

    Glad it didn’t happen to my street cabinet

  12. Gavin says:

    I remember the same happening to mobile phone transmitter backup batterys.

  13. ben says:

    They did have to pay the £3m back right? because 12 months in jail for £3m is a good deal.

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