ONE of Scotland’s largest power companies is offering £10,000 rewards for information about metal thefts as it attempts to tackle the expensive and potentially deadly crime epidemic.
Scottish Power Energy Networks, which distributes electricity across central and southern Scotland, will launch a publicity campaign on Monday.
Since January 2011, 1,435 substations have been targeted, costing the company hundreds of thousands of pounds in repair bills.
The crime costs Scotland an estimated £12 million a year, but the damage cannot be measured in money alone. In July, a 43-year-old man died following an attempted theft from a pole mounted substation in Lanarkshire.
Peter Court, 43, was hit with 11,000 volts at a substation in Torbothie, Lanarkshire.
And earlier this week a pregnant woman was forced to flee her home in Inchture, Perthshire, after the theft of metal cables caused a power surge that started a fire in her loft.
Power surges following thefts have also destroyed domestic appliances owned by innocent members of the public.
Frank Mitchell, chief executive officer of Scottish Power Energy Networks, said: “It is a misconception that stealing metal from a substation or a power line is a victimless crime.
“This year alone we have seen one attempted theft result in a fatality, a whole street in Kilbarchan affected by a power surge causing damage in their homes and tens of thousands of other homes have experienced interruptions to their power supplies. The worrying reality of this kind of criminal behaviour is the serious impact it can have on local communities.”
Metal theft has been a growing problem in Scotland for a number of years, driven by high prices and demand, particularly from China.
The Scottish Government has consulted on tougher rules for scrap metal industry in a bid to crackdown on rogue traders.
It has proposed a ban on cash payments and a requirement of all businesses with a turnover of £1m or less to get a licence.
Over the last two and a half years ScottishPower estimates that 140,000 homes have been exposed to increased risks of fire or damage.
In one of the worst incidents, 50,000 homes in Glasgow lost power for 30 minutes in November 2011 after an attempted theft.
In January, there was a spate of thefts in Dumfries and Galloway in which power lines being cut down by hacksaws. As well as putting themselves and homes at risk, thieves often leave substations unsecured, with children and other passers by at risk from high voltage equipment.
ScottishPower’s “Copped it” campaign, which highlights metal theft, contains images of a wreath, football, and broken appliances, made of copper with the words: “Is it worth it?”
The British Transport Police (BTP), which has responsibility for metal theft, said it believed the crime had started to plateau after rising in recent years.
Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, Scottish area commander, said: “BTP wholeheartedly supports this new initiative launched this week by ScottishPower Energy Networks.”