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Cable Thieves Leave Oxfordshire UK Village Offline for Nearly 2 Weeks

Monday, Aug 14th, 2023 (9:23 am) - Score 4,320

Some 400 homes across the rural Oxfordshire (England) village of Ardington have been left disconnected from their broadband and phone services for almost two weeks, which occurred after criminals stole more than 500 metres of underground copper cable from Openreach’s local network.

The community, which is predominantly covered by Openreach’s ADSL and Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) based broadband network (although a couple of patches may have FTTP too), began to experience connectivity problems on 2nd August 2023. As the outage continued, residents soon began to complain about the impact on their lives and businesses, with some concerned about the impact on vulnerable members of the community.

NOTE: Such thefts usually occur late at night, often – but not always – in rural or suburban areas (slower police response) and around manhole covers, cables, poles and any other parts of their broadband network.

According to the Oxford Mail, the connection problems began after criminals ripped more than 500 metres worth of Openreach’s heavy core copper telecoms cable out of the ground, causing significant damage to other parts of their network in the process. Sadly, repairing such damage is an inherently slow, expensive and complex process.

Openreach are now warning that their work may need a bit longer before everything is back to normal. The perpetrators of such crimes, who typically cut up and then sell the stolen copper on to scrap metal dealers, never have any regard for the harm they cause to locals, some of which depend upon their home phone service.

A Spokesperson for Openreach said:

“We’re really disappointed that residents in and around Ardington are having to bear the brunt of criminal behaviour and theft from our network. These attacks cause significant damage and unacceptable disruption to the lives of local people and put vulnerable people at risk.

More than 500 metres of underground cable was taken in this incident, and the damage is impacting phone and broadband service to around 400 local homes and businesses. Engineers have been working to restore phone and broadband but the scale nature and scale of the damage is so significant that we’ve had to bring in extra resource.

We’re doing our best to get the work done quickly and safely but it could be the middle of next week before everything’s back up and running.

We’re already using anti-theft technology to help track stolen cable and convict criminals and our Security team is working closely with Thames Valley Police along with organisations like Crimestoppers, the National Crime Agency, British Transport Police and Network Rail, to tackle the problem together.

We encourage anyone who is still experiencing problems to contact their provider who will advise us. We also urge people to call 101 to report any suspicious activity to the police.

Examples of this activity include seeing people lifting manhole lids or unusual activity around our network in fields late at night, particularly if it involves 4×4 vehicles. If members of the public do believe a crime is in progress then they should dial 999.”

The rollout of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband ISP lines should, eventually, help to reduce such thefts as fibre has no value to thieves. However, this won’t completely stop the problem from occurring in the short to medium-term because fibre and copper cables often share some of the same ducts – thieves sometimes mistakenly also pull fibre out of the ground thinking it’s copper.

Despite the problems, it’s worth pointing out that all of the major mobile network operators – EE (BT), Three UK, Vodafone and O2 (VMO2) – do appear to have reasonable to good 4G based (mobile broadband) signal coverage of the community.

Customers in the area who are members of an ISP that is a signatory to the automatic compensation scheme should be compensated for the outage. At present this scheme is supported by most of the major ISPs including BT, Hyperoptic, Sky Broadband (inc. NOW Broadband), TalkTalk, Utility Warehouse, Virgin Media, Vodafone (only on Openreach’s network), EE, Plusnet and Zen Internet.

Finally, Openreach has a partnership with Crimestoppers, which offers rewards for information given anonymously to the charity about cable thefts, if it leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible – you can contact them 100% anonymously on 0800 555 111 or use their anonymous online form. You can also contact Openreach’s security team direct or report via the local police (101), or if you see a crime in progress, then call the police on 999.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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23 Responses
  1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    Is there no centralised monitoring by Openreach that immediately flags when a whole bunch of connections go down together?

    1. Avatar photo 10BaseT says:

      There might be but there is nobody looking at it after 5PM on Friday.

    2. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      I suspect they do, but thieves target the countryside for a reason

    3. Avatar photo Wayne says:

      There is 24hr monitoring (NOC) in adastral park in Suffolk…
      I work there myself on cyber security platform
      Multiple platforms are on shift, looking after the infrastructure.

    4. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      It’s too late by the time the monitoring has detected the outage

    5. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      Potential cable theft alerts go to the BT security control centre.

    6. Avatar photo G says:

      These criminals are very quick and know exactly what they’re doing. As soon as they have cut the cable they quickly attach to a vehicle in only a couple of minutes then drag it down the road potentially killing someone before taking it to a field to be cut up and transported.

  2. Avatar photo Obi says:

    Well that should help speed up the rollout of FTTP /s
    Jokes aside, feel sorry for the residents, hope this is resolved swiftly, and the criminals are dealt with accordingly.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Criminals will be dealt with to the laughable standards of modern justice, and that’s if they’re caught. This won’t be a one-off, it’ll be a gang who have been at it for a while, and even with twenty or thirty offences on their form sheet, they’ll get at most four and half years and be out in two (and there’s examples of repeat cable thieves getting suspended sentences). Do a search on “cable theft gang sentenced” and you’ll see the penalties are inconsequential for career criminals.

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      would it make a difference with FTTP? The copper cables are still in place, and they will rip out the fibre as well.

  3. Avatar photo Sam B says:

    “We encourage anyone who is still experiencing problems to contact their provider who will advise us. We also urge people to call 101 to report any suspicious activity to the police.”

    I’m sure they would, if their phone service was working.

  4. Avatar photo Nicholas Roberts says:

    Locals must be pretty dozy. All round the village and nobody noticed it going on ?

    They must have used some mechanical equipment to speed the extraction . . . even if they used a
    digger, moving at 1 Mph,to rip the conduit out of the ground, it must have taken a good hour. And nobody noticed and the noise ?

    Wonder if it was the locals . . fed-up by being told by Openreach they’re not on a FTTP priority list

    1. Avatar photo anon says:

      how do you know they didn’t report it? I had my car and my motorbike stolen. When the car was stolen, a police officer turned up 8 hours later. When my bike was stolen, they turned up the next day. Not much good it’s going to do if it takes a police officer several hours to show up especially in a remote village where they might only have one or two officers, or worse, none at all and one has to travel for a few hours to get there.

    2. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      They typically use a 4×4 with chains or ropes to attached to the cable and literally drag it out. Takes minutes and will usually damage anything else in the duct , e.g. fibre . Often they will drag it across fields or down roads at high speed , hitting anything on the way.

  5. Avatar photo anon says:

    I wonder what they even do with it. I took some copper pipe left over after a bathroom refurb to european metal recycling and they wanted two forms of ID from me and to know where the copper pipe came from (had to show them invoices for the bathroom refurb). I suppose it’s leaving the country. Something has to be done about these cable thieves. Hopefully when everyone is on fibre they won’t be stealing those.

  6. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

    “…thieves sometimes mistakenly also pull fibre out of the ground thinking it’s copper…”
    Why don’t they carry a purple stripe, or similar universally agreed marking, down the black cladding to clearly indicate Fibre.

    1. Avatar photo Abcdefg says:

      It has a yellow strip on fibre cables but I’m pretty sure the criminals at the time aren’t really paying much attention and trying to get in and out as quick as possible…..

    2. Avatar photo Alex says:

      I doubt cable thieves study sheathing standards

  7. Avatar photo james smith says:

    This is why I have 5g mobile internet as a home solution, no local cable to pilfer.
    Without internet locals will have to do real things like mix at local pubs, go to real meeting places, read real news papers

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Until someone burns down the mast as they think it is making them ill. 🙂
      it has happened and may happen more if a lot of those masts are put up

  8. Avatar photo Nicholas Roberts says:

    I would have thought that old copper cable would have been buried deeper than modern fibre and that even with a performance 600 BHP 4×4 you’d have your work cut-out dragging it out. Traction conditions would have to be ideal i.e. more-or-less straight and level, no soggy ground, no gravel, no walls in the way along the course of the cable. Its not something, that the just turn-up to do impromptu and casually decide to do. So they must case the site and presumably, they’ll be using a nicked 4 x 4 with false plates.There’s some “Before-the-fact”cues. Can’t be too many 600 BHP 4 x 4s about.

    1. Avatar photo G says:

      They will find 2 manholes then cut the cable simultaneously, attach to a vehicle then drive down the road with it probably get the whole cable out in a few minutes.

  9. Avatar photo Dmitry Rod says:

    Defend Manholes of Wells, Well + Manhole + Castle
    The Safe City program deals with the solution of Our common problem – the disappearance of manhole covers and dangerous open wells, which are still getting bigger on the streets…
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