Thief dies after being electrocuted trying to steal copper pipes
Published 25/11/2011 | 13:19
A THIEF trying to steal copper cables and a boiler from tunnels under a disused hospital died when he was electrocuted trying to tap power from a fire alarm system to power his saw, an inquest heard today.
Father-of-two Keith Greaves, 40, had gone with friend and distant relative Neil Knight to service tunnels under the former lunatic asylum on Easter Monday this year after seeing pictures posted on the internet by "urban explorers" which revealed the inside of the tunnels were still full of metalworking.
They were part-way through dismantling the copper tank when they ran out of power from the diesel generator for the electric jigsaw. Mr Greaves, from Truro, Cornwall, tried to tap power from 240v cables running through the tunnel using a "snap-on" connector designed for car batteries and only able to handle 12v of power. He was electrocuted and died at the scene under St Lawrence's Hospital in Bodmin.
Andrew Cox, the deputy coroner for Cornwall, recorded a verdict of accidental death at the inquest at City Hall in Truro and issued a warning to the increasing number of thieves searching out metals like copper and lead to sell as scrap.
"I very much hope that anyone who has been here today or reads the reports gives cause to consider the perils of trespassing unlawfully on to a property and then engaging in an activity like this.
"It is an absolute tragedy that this has happened. It is a senseless waste of a young life."
Earlier this month the Local Government Association (LGA) said theft of metal from railway lines, power stations and street furniture is estimated to cost the UK economy £770 million a year and causes chaos on the transport network and to homes and businesses.
The extensive networks of tunnels carry the water, gas and electricity pipes for the hospital, which has been closed since 2002, but also for other parts of the site which are still in use.
Mr Knight, a mechanic, told the inquest Mr Greaves had discussed the idea with him the previous night in a pub and they had agreed to go to the hospital the following day.
The hearing was told that Greaves had quit his job the previous September after claiming he was suffering from work-related stress brought on by bullying at work.
They arrived around 10am and gained entry to a laundry building by crawling through a hole in the wall. They then made their way down an 18-inch wide shaft to a wider tunnel, around 200 metres from where they entered the building.
There they discovered the large metal tank and started dismantling it in the pitch black tunnel, the only light coming from head torches.
Giving evidence, Mr Knight said: "We had two batteries for the saw and we were trying to break up the tank.
"After the batteries ran out we stopped for 20 minutes for a break. We walked back through to a room where there were a lot of electrical cables. While he attempted to get power into the saw Keith took a grey cable from the side wall. He was going to use it to run an electrical cable off.
"When I was 12-15 feet away I heard a strange noise that I cannot really describe. I turned around to see in the darkness his torch illuminating from the floor. He was on his knees facing away from me. I remember going to the front of him and seeing the grey cable in front of him, I immediately kicked it away."
Mr Knight said after unsuccessfully attempting CPR following the incident in the early afternoon he went to the surface and after ringing John Sobey, Mr Greaves' father-in-law, dialled 999.
The inquest heard that firefighters and paramedics could not get into the dark and narrow tunnel until the power had been turned off, which took some time because cables running through them were powering dialysis machines at a nearby NHS renal unit. There was also asbestos in the tunnel.
Mr Greaves was confirmed dead shortly before 6pm.
Kelly-Marie Greaves, the dead man's widow, attended the short hearing with her parents. She declined to comment afterwards.