Two men jailed for 16 months over BT copper heist

The theft of hundreds of metres of copper cable led to broadband outages in Middlesex and Sussex last year.

Two men convicted of stealing copper cable from BT have been sentenced to 16 months in prison.

The men from Epsom, Surrey were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court last week, the Metropolitan Police said on Monday.

A proposed two-year sentence for two counts of theft each was reduced to 16 months after the pair pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of metres of BT cable.

Posing as workmen, the men on two occasions in May 2012 used a van towing a large winch to yank out hundreds of metres of copper cable from BT's manholes. The theft knocked out telephone and broadband services to hundreds of homes and businesses in Teddington, Middlesex and Sussex.

Cable theft has been behind a number of BT service disruptions affecting thousands of customers over the past few years. 

In 2010, BT Openreach announced it had lined its cables with a forensic tracing liquid SmartWater and had worked with police to arrest over 200 cable thieves. Losses from cable theft were estimated in the "single digit millions". 

In November last year the UK government promised to crack down on rogue scrap metal dealers to stamp out cable theft, even proposing new legislation that could require metal dealers to be licensed. 

Cable theft in the UK costs carriers up to £777m a year, according to some estimates, and, given the impact on vital communications services, has been a serious enough problem for the Met to launch a unit dedicated to stamping out the crime.

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