Metal thieves ‘put lives at risk and hit economy’

Metal thieves are risking lives and causing millions of pounds of damage, the fire service said yesterday.

Chief superintendent Ellie Bird and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill are attending a summit to tackle metal theft. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) issued the warning as it hosted a summit on how to tackle the threat to public safety and the economy.

British Transport Police (BTP), Police Scotland, utilities providers and Scottish Government representatives also attended the summit in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire.

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Some of the more recent incidents highlighted included how fires broke out in four homes in Greenock in November, after thieves stole copper wire from an electricity substation, leaving 280 houses without power.

One family of four, which included two young children, had to flee their home after thick smoke filled their house.

In a separate incident, ScottishPower said that an attempted theft led to the death of a man involved near Shotts in North Lanarkshire.

SFRS assistant chief officer Lewis Ramsay said: “Anyone engaged in metal theft is risking lives. These are not victimless crimes and we are working closely with police and others to protect our communities.

“Thieves’ interference with power infrastructure has caused surges of electricity, resulting in fires breaking out and flames and toxic smoke taking hold within homes.

“We have also seen cases where high-rise buildings have been left at severe risk due to thieves vandalising fixed equipment needed to get water to firefighters tackling a blaze.

“It isn’t hard to imagine the terrible consequences of a fire within a block where there is significant delay getting water to our crews.

“Those involved in metal theft must know their actions put the public at risk as well as the firefighters and our fellow emergency responders.”

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who spoke at the summit, said that the Scottish Government was committed to cracking down on metal theft and is proposing measures to tighten up the licensing of metal dealers.

He said: “Along with proposals for tougher legislation, more effective enforcement has been introduced including the British Transport Police team dedicated to tackling metal theft.

“The Crown Office and procurator fiscal service have also adopted a tougher prosecution policy in relation to this issue and courts now reflect the full consequential costs.”

BTP said that it had seen cable and metal thefts fall by 50 per cent in the past year but was not complacent about the problem.

Chief superintendent Ellie Bird, divisional commander for BTP Scotland, said: “These crimes not only cause immense inconvenience and upset to the public but they can also put them in real danger, and those who are foolish enough to commit the crime.

“As the divisional commander for Scotland, I am comforted that the force has established a dedicated team who have become crucial in ensuring damage, theft or disruption to major infrastructure projects is avoided.”