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GBP20,000 Reward to Help Catch Openreach UK Cable Thieves

Thursday, January 20th, 2022 (1:51 pm) - Score 8,448

A string of damaging copper cable thefts in rural Cambridgeshire (England), which repeatedly knocked out broadband and phone services for hundreds of homes on Openreach’s (BT) network in the villages of Swavesey and Witchford, have resulted in the operator offering a reward of £20,000 to help catch those responsible.

Since the end of last year we’ve reported on a series of attacks against Openreach’s infrastructure in the area (here and here), which were aimed at stealing the operator’s copper cable and seem likely to have been committed by an organised gang of criminals. The price of copper remains high and this usually fuels such activity. Sadly, the perpetrators have no regard for the significant harm this causes to local homes and businesses.

Most recently, large sections of live cable were dragged from the underground network using 4×4 vehicles on Witchford Road, Ely, between 6pm and 9.30pm on Sunday 2 January, and also on Fen Drayton Road, Swavesey, overnight on Tuesday 4 January, between 9.30pm and the early hours of Wednesday 5 January at 2am. There was also previous damage to the network and subsequent disruption in Witchford before Christmas.

Despite swift action by Openreach engineers, who replaced “hundreds of metres of cable in both locations within just a couple of days“, the damage still caused major disruption for hundreds of households, including essential emergency services. Significant damage was also caused to street furniture, farmland and the RSPB nature reserve in Swavesey following “cables being dragged through the protected land.

The situation has caused so much repeated disruption that the operator is now offering a reward of up to £20,000 for anonymous information given to Crimestoppers (call 0800 555 111 or use the online form), provided it leads to the conviction of those responsible for the recent cable thefts in Swavesey and Witchford.

Richard Ginnaw, Head of Security Services for Openreach, said:

“These incidents have severely impacted the day-to-day lives of people across these areas of Cambridgeshire, and this is why we are offering this reward. Did you see any suspicious people or vehicles in or around the areas targeted, on the dates and times of the incidents, or in the days leading up to the thefts?

We are working closely with the police to catch those who are responsible and have deployed additional security enhancements across the area, but we also need your help. Please be vigilant, and if you saw anything suspicious on or around the time of the incidents, please report it. If you prefer not to speak directly to police, contact the charity Crimestoppers anonymously.”

We should point out that the new generation of optical fibre cables in Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband networks have no value to such thieves, but this doesn’t completely stop the activity because the gangs will sometimes still target those on the mistaken assumption that they might actually be copper. Copper and fibre lines may also share the same duct, thus damage to one can sometimes impact the other.

Sadly, copper telecoms cables remain a common target (examples here, here, here, here, here and here) for organised crime.

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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. Paul says:

    This type of theft, or most type of thefts (including shoplifting) aren’t deemed a priority at all for the police anymore. Even when it knocks out the 999 emergency services systems.

    However, the police and other authorities seem to have PLENTY of resources if you report an IPTV service to them.

    Funny way the ‘priorities’ of the world works huh?

    Surely its the scumbag metal dealers/scrapyards should be getting raided as the stuff is worthless to criminals without that part of the equation. The Openreach cable must be very distinctive surely?

    1. Anonymous says:

      “However, the police and other authorities seem to have PLENTY of resources if you report an IPTV service to them.”

      You know this how? Daily Mail? Or from personal experience?

    2. anonymous says:

      So you’ve some involvement with IPTV and are upset over police action. Gotcha.

    3. Jaycee says:

      Tldr if it’s worth the police getting up for, it isn’t going to be taken seriously. These days it’s all statistic pumping and box ticking, go for the easy ones first.

    4. Paul says:


      “Gotcha” for what exactly?

      Simply read ‘TorrentFreak’ it covers the legalities of downloading stuff on your broadband.

      News on there says Police have dozens of officers to spare for IPTV raids but ZERO officer availability for shoplifting, muggings, knife crimes, car thefts, burglaries.

      I know what I’d prefer the enforcement to focus on. [CLUE: Not IPTV]

      Money buys anything, clearly.

    5. Bojos Kid says:

      “News on there (Torrentfreak) says Police have dozens of officers to spare for IPTV raids but ZERO officer availability for shoplifting, muggings, knife crimes, car thefts, burglaries”

      Are you Bojo in disguise? LMAO

    6. John says:

      Its costly to stop this crime. They’d have to know where thieves will target and they could target anywhere that has openreach copper labels.. so all of the UK then if they were to stop it it would have to be stopped as its being done so it will mean manned officers in these areas. Even they installed cameras the crime would be done and people can cover their faces. Also got to realise police have limited funding and if they did have the funding this would be a priority over something like flytipping bc it affects a large business. It’s pretty simple for police to investigate illegal streaming or IPTV given the fact ISPs can now share such data with the police

    7. Phil says:

      There is a large gypsy site at cambridge. It will more than likely be them.

    8. JustMy2pWorth says:

      As shocking a criminal act as this is and the effects it has on those relying on this infrastructure, maybe BT (incl other ISPs) Should step up their game and swap it out with Fibre, making this type of crime consigned to the history books. 20k reward seem’s a little underwealming if as the article suggests the purported act was carried out by OCGs.

    9. Nick says:

      The cable serving fenstanton got done again last week. Same mo as a couple of years ago.
      Got to be someone fairly local because they stripped the sheath and dumped it in the local brook.

  2. Granola says:

    “Scappys” have machines that shred the coverings and seperate the copper, chopping it into tiny pieces at an amazing rate. They would have to be raided in a very short time after the theft for there to be any viable evidence.

  3. GaryH says:

    Thing is the scrap price of copper isn’t really that much, It might be high compared to historical prices but given the relatively small amount in phone cables vs Power cable these criminals are causing a lot of annoyance and financial loss for a somewhat pathetic return.

    I doubt the sentence handed out IF they are caught will satisfy the residents and openreach.

  4. Anthony Goodman says:

    If you say something on Twitter that might offend someone the police are all over it in a flash. If you steal thousands of pounds worth of cabining knocking everyone off twitter, the police don’t care. There is something very wrong with that.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Don’t care much about a hundred guests with wine bottles nipping into number 10 for a work meeting either, do they?

  5. zzing says:

    If the area is targetted so often by gangs for copper, why not put 1 and 1 together to prioritise that area for Fibre? Or is that too logical?

    1. anonymous says:

      It’s not remotely logical. Having spent all that money replacing copper as is required by the regulator what’s the business case for prioritising with fibre, knowing that criminal gangs aren’t exactly renowned for differentiating between fibre and copper?

    2. Anthony Goodman says:

      But the fibre is generally underground in ducting, whereas copper is deployed entirely overhead. Or at least this is what has happened with our areas upgrade to FTTP.

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      “whereas copper is deployed entirely overhead”

      Varies from area to area, but the copper cable these criminals are after is the large thick core cable that goes underground (too big and heavy for overhead use).

    4. anonymous says:

      If your FTTP came from Openreach that’s very strange. Openreach and anyone using their assets under PIA will use existing poles to carry fibre rather than dig, occasionally installing new ones.

      CityFibre do both, with a preference for their own dig. Virgin Media O2 do both with a preference for their own dig. Gigaclear do plenty of their own digging.

      Indeed, if you look at the Morley area of Leeds you can find plenty of poles with both Openreach and CityFibre CBTs mounted on them.

      Poles aren’t a big target for cable theft. As Mark noted the copper carried on a pole isn’t very valuable due to weight and length. Underground trunk cables go up to 4,800 pairs and may be pretty long. The biggest pole cable is 100 pair.

  6. Sam P says:

    Where is the guy that wants to label the thief’s terrorists? lol.

    In all seriousness, good luck finding them. It’s gypsies.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      I’m here. Yes I still think they should be labelled as terrorists. But your probably right “Gypsy terrorists” it is then. 😉

    2. anonymous says:

      You don’t pay anything to the public purse given your previous posting so not an issue.

  7. Ian Farrington says:

    When these cables are cut they create alarms in the telephone exchange. In the past I have reported these to Openreach and they have just ignored me. They had 3 and a half hours to catch the thieves in the act. Why aren’t they acting on the alarms? The alarm I am talking about is the number of parked lines which breaches a threshold when a cable is cut.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Just as a matter of interest is BT insured for this?

    2. anonymous says:

      Okay how are you able to report issues to Openreach and demand a 3.5 hour response time?

    3. Ribble says:

      3.5 hours? That doesn’t sound like cable theft. They’d have the cable in the next county long before then.

  8. Qwerty says:

    Where I am, many might be quite happy to have a few days down to get new copper and get rid of the aluminium cable which keeps breaking then taking more than a week to fix. We regularly have engineers in the village fixing cables.

  9. Rabbit says:

    ‘ When these cables are cut they create alarms in the telephone exchange. In the past I have reported these to Openreach and they have just ignored me’

    What complete nonsense .

  10. D R Niroula says:

    Only solution is universal fibre.

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