MPs seek new penalties for broadband-killing cable thieves

MPs have called for tough new laws to clamp down on copper cable thieves that cut off internet access for thousands of end users.

MPs seek new penalties for broadband-killing cable thieves

A bill to update the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act would see rogue scrap metal dealers closed, cash payments banned, and longer sentences for convicted metal thieves.

The private members bill brought by the Tory MP for Croydon South, Richard Ottaway, follows an epidemic of metal theft from targets ranging from church roofs to broadband cables and railway power lines.

The theft of £40 of copper can cause £500,000-worth of damage

“What cannot be overestimated, however — it is very hard to measure — is the devastating impact that a single theft can have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people,” Ottaway said. “The theft of £40 of copper can cause £500,000-worth of damage.

“Three times this year, thieves have taken BT copper cables from the same spot in Bexley. Each time they knocked out about 2,000 landlines for four days. An entire community of homes lost broadband, mobile signals and the internet.”

Ottaway said separate thefts had caused postponements of 80 operations in one Cardiff hospital, and caused thousands of pounds’ worth of lost business for affected companies.

Evidence gathering

According to Ottaway thieves were already finding ways around ultraviolet marking technologies designed to leave a trail of evidence on both the metal cabling and the thief.

“Putting SmartWater on to cables and using a UV light on materials that come into yards is acting as a deterrent,” Ottaway said. “However, such is the nature of market forces that people are already beginning to find a way round that. Technology has to move on and continue to provide a deterrent.”

He gave no further details, but said industries should continue to make more use of marking technologies as a deterrent.

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