BT sees relief for cable theft headache in scrapyard crackdown

BT sees relief for cable theft headache in scrapyard crackdown

Summary: From next month, scrap metal dealers will no longer be able to deal in cash, under a legal crackdown aimed at combating thefts that regularly cause broadband and phone outages for BT customers.


The UK government is set to crack down on rogue scrap metal dealers in a drive to 'stamp out' metal theft — an issue that has been causing broadband outages and other headaches for telecoms giant BT.

New measures, due to come into force on 3 December, will ban all dealers from paying cash for scrap metal and increase the penalties for crimes under existing legislation. They will also give the police more authority to enter scrapyards and fine rogue traders, the Home Office said on Thursday.

Separately, a 'Scrap Metal Dealers Bill' is set to get another reading in Parliament on Friday. If passed, it will require scrap metal dealers to be licensed.

BT is a vocal supporter of this bill, largely because it loses vast amounts of copper cabling every year to thieves. Its service status page regularly lists broadband and phone line outages due to damage from cable theft, and in February, the company said there has been a "significant" increase in attacks on its networks in recent years as the price of metals has risen.


Phone line theft "can prevent villages from making vital calls to emergency services and can leave severely ill and infirm people disconnected and isolated", BT was quoted as saying in The Telegraph on Wednesday.

The issue is calculated to cost the UK at least £220m each year, though police estimates put the figure at £777m. It is so serious that the Metropolitan Police launched a unit at the end of last year — with the involvement of BT experts — that is dedicated to tackling copper cable theft.

To tackle the problem, BT has tried out 'RABIT' technology, which detects when a cable has been cut and immediately alerts police, and has introduced security measures such as SmartWater, which identifies cables through indelible marking.

"Openreach expects to spend tens of thousands of hours [in 2012] repairing theft and damage to the network, at a cost of millions of pounds, including the cost of repair (time and materials) and the cost of the mitigation actions being taken by BT to combat the problem," BT said in February.

Topics: BT, Broadband, Fiber, Government UK, Security, United Kingdom

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Probably being done by junkies

    The junkies in the US steal copper cabling all the time, and several have been electrocuted trying to remove live wires at power substations, to the vast amusement of everyone. One less drug-addled wretch for society do deal with, and they probably were reduced to a pile of ashes, simplifying body retrieval to using a DustBuster.
    • Sadly it's not

      It's your average common thief seeing an opportunity to make money. It's not just cable, recently there's been stories about silver trophy thefts and even brass plaques from war memorials. I do agree that electrocution is too good for some of these thieves.
      Little Old Man
      • Or them either...

        Opportunists dont deliberately pull down a couple of pylons with trucks at carefully planned points in order to steal a few thousand feet of cable. This is organised crime; it takes industrial contacts and equipment to make it worthwhile for starters, and the cable is only good for scrap so its not being robbed for fitting either.

        Its aluminium power cable they usually go after, its easier to melt and make unidentifiable, plus theres more of it for less work than copper telcoms wire thats often buried anyway.

        I think the law should be a *lot* tougher on vandals as well as thieves who break public property or services. Its nothing less than betraying each and every other member of the population, far worse than an individuals loss.
  • You give the pikeys too much credit

    Copper is still running highest on the theft list after lead roofing has died out. Saying that, I know of one church that has had it's roof destroyed 3 times in 18mths.
    As for copper cable normally buried, the easiest route to access is to break into street cabinets and use land rovers to drag the cable out of the ground. The large scale pylon damage, I agree is more organised, but it's a small part of the problem related to the scrap metal industry and the lack of controls. Far more small-scale thieves targetting smaller targets which overall creates a bigger problem than the rare occurances of pylon takedown.
    Little Old Man