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Britain’s road network is being attacked by an influx of metal thieves resulting in motorists being plunged into darkness whilst driving.
The latest problem described to MPs by local transport minister Norman Baker at Westminster, had once been confined to the rail network, but it is now spreading to the entire transport infrastructure.
Norman Baker said: “This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets.”
The latest incidents caused by metal thieves have caused street lighting cables to be plundered on major roads resulting in sudden blackouts for drivers, putting them at maximum risk of an accident.
One of the most recent incidents of a street lighting cable being stolen was on the A63 which links the M1 and the centre of Leeds. In recent weeks, police have reported that more than £200,000 of cable has been stolen, with the outer casing being stripped off and sold on.
Another serious incident occurred last month when one of the Government’s managed motorway schemes was thrown into complete disarray when cable used to connect road signs was stolen and circuit television cameras were closed off. As a direct result of the vandalism, the Highways Agency was unable to open up the hard shoulder to ease congestion on the M6 between Walsall and Wolverhampton, causing massive delays and inconvenience to many drivers.
One of the major issues centering around this type of theft is that in some cases, the thieves think they are stealing valuable copper, when they are actually stealing fibre optic cable which is worth very little.
Andrew Hoards from AA’s road safety went on to make comment in relation to warning signs which are also being stolen and can lead to the cause of further accidents.
“When you are talking about metal theft you also have to take into account warning signs being stolen,” he said.
“If this happens on a bend, it can be really dangerous. On a remote road in North Yorkshire, for example, you would expect chevron signs and if that is not there it is much more worrying.”
Action being taken against the metal thieves has been announced by Chancellor George Osborne, who has put in place a £5 million task force which will be dedicated to tackling the criminal gangs and scrap metal dealers who trade in stolen material.