Business Irish

Saturday 21 July 2018

Spate of metal thefts hurting firms and putting lives at risk

An estimated 27,000 ESB customers suffered power cuts as a result of widespread metal theft in 2015
An estimated 27,000 ESB customers suffered power cuts as a result of widespread metal theft in 2015

Jane O'Faherty

Some of Ireland's biggest businesses have been affected by stolen metal thefts from ESB lines, it has been revealed.

And at least one person has been killed and at least three others have been seriously injured while attempting to steal metal from live ESB lines to date, the electricity provider has said.

An estimated 27,000 ESB customers suffered power cuts as a result of widespread metal theft in 2015, while 81,000 customer hours were lost during that time.

Companies such as Irish Rail, Eircom, Diageo, An Post and WEEE Ireland have also been affected.

ESB Networks' head of distribution and customer services, Senan Colleran, said that metal thieves were "taking their lives into their own hands".

"Today, we know of one fatality and three very serious injuries of people breaking in to substations or cutting down wires who have been very badly hurt or killed," he said.

"We've had a number of reports of people who were burned and who fell off poles trying to steal wires, so they're bringing huge risk to themselves."

Mr Colleran added that the risk was not just limited to the perpetrators, but also put members of the public, farmers and ESB staff in danger.

"In many cases, hazards are left for the public and for farmers and landowners alike. There have been small fires caused," he said.

There have been 43 break-ins to ESB substations and 48 live line thefts so far in 2015.

The ESB estimates that the aftermath of metal theft has cost them €27m since 2012, and that 140km of copper conductor have been taken in those three years.

The State company also said that the consequential costs can dwarf the price of the stolen copper when it is sold on by gangs.

Live conductors left exposed and weakened poles that could fall onto cars were other examples of knock-on effects of thefts. Mr Colleran was launching a joint campaign with Crimestoppers and the Garda Siochana to combat metal theft nationwide. The organisations are encouraging the public to be vigilant and report any instances of metal theft in their communities.

Garda Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne said that the crimes normally occur late at night or early in the morning, where small groups cut wires and cables and take them from the scene.

"What we're noticing is that these thefts occur in predominantly rural areas, off the main roads," he said.

"There is some scouting involved a day or two beforehand - there's no doubt about that."

Mr Byrne also called on communities to come together to tackle metal theft in their own areas by contacting gardai or Crimestoppers.

"I think the rural community - particularly farmers - have a big role to play in this. They are impacted," he said.

"There was a whole field destroyed in terms of repairing the cables. That caused a huge impact for the farmer involved himself."

In 2013, metal theft was identified as the crime with the fastest growing crime rates in the world and was considered the most relevant emerging crime in Europe.

Crime gangs have targeted nearly all metals, regardless of value, and there have been reports of stolen manhole covers, aluminium gates, copper wires and electrical cables as well as beer kegs, white electrical goods and goal posts.

Irish Independent

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