back to article BT, Scotland Yard form copper theft crackdown supersquad

BT is working with Scotland Yard in an effort to crack down on metal theft, which the Met said costs taxpayers £700m per year - not to mention the misery when power and telecoms cabling is nicked. A group – dubbed the Waste and Metal Task Force – has been formed, made up of the Metropolitan Police Service; representatives from …


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  1. tmTM

    Stiffer Sentances

    For all involved, of course the problem will be rampant if the only punishment is a slap on the wrist.

    Prison time for thieves and large fines for the metal yards that deal with them.

    1. h3

      Wrong Target

      You act as if the thieves are the worst part. The heavy jail sentences should go to the scrap dealers. People doing this sort of thing are generally addicts and nothing will deter them. Heavy sentencing for people making the profit would work allot better. (If there is no where to sell it then the addicts won't bother - the possibility of jail for wilfully doing this would work as its more likely that the scrap dealer's will act in a more reasoned manner (Jail sentence for a family man just making bit extra money on the side is much more likely to improve the end results - you cannot reason with an addict.)

  2. Arrrggghh-otron

    "fibre is worthless to criminals"

    Then get on the with bloody fibre roll out - sounds like it will save you £ in the long run...

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Lol, maybe that's why it's going so fast.

      Unfortunately it won't actually help much because it's being run alongside existing cabling. In fact your voice will still travel via copper to the exchange. In some cases (like mine) the data will actually go to a different exchange altogether.

      The only thing that will really help here is to replace the copper loop with fibre. That's only on the cards for a few places at the moment but this week's announcement by Ofcom about battery backed FTTP is a step in the right direction:

      1. Dug Stokes


        Data going via a different exchange to the phone? Is this why almost every month my phone line is dead for two days, and there's queues on the road because of the works - but my internet is still working absolutely fine?

        Never thought I'd learn something on El Reg. Thanks for the info!

        1. Steve Evans


          With FTTC (aka BT Infinity) the copper pair from you house goes to the box down the street. There the data and voice are split. The voice continues its quaint (and ancient) route as an analogue signal to the exchange. The data jumps onto the fibre at the cabinet.

          My area recently suffered telecoms cable theft. Phone was out, but broadband was fine (which was nice).

        2. AndrueC Silver badge

          Maybe, maybe not.

          I was referring to the way some towns are having their FTTC supplied from different exchanges. I live in Brackley but our exchange for FTTC is going to Banbury (12 miles away). I live on the Banbury side of town so assuming the cable topography is sensible(*) the data link will go straight from my cabinet to Banbury and won't go anywhere Brackley exchange. Voice however will continue to be provided by the Brackley exchange. I'm guessing that as/when/if the copper loop is finally removed Brackley exchange will be closed down.

          But for ADSL both probably go down to the same cable to the same exchange. After that there could be differences I suppose especially if you're on an LLU service. Depends whether a third party has run their own backhaul for the exchange or if (as I suspect is usually the case) they rent capacity off BT for the first few kilometres.

          (*)Yer, right. BT being sensible. Ho ho.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Replacing the copper loop with fibre?

        Bad idea for emergencies. Copper phone lines also carry power sufficient to run a couple of simple phones. What if the power goes out and someone needs to call 999?

        1. gerryg

          @Replacing the copper loop with fibre?

          In your dystopian world does no-one have a mobile phone? Some people I know are happy enough with a mob and dongle for internet. Have you seen the way BT call revenues are falling off a cliff?

          I want FTTH for the internet.

          1. AndrueC Silver badge

            "Dystopian world"? What the hell are you dribbling on about?

            Yes, of course fibre will primarily be for the internet. But it can also carry voice if that's what people want. Maybe mobile will make that pointless but equally ubiquitous internet probably makes VoIP zero cost. I don't know. I just made the observation that one day the copper local loop will cease to exist.

            Frankly I just don't understand the purpose behind your post. You seem to be trying to pick a fight over something you imagine I wrote. I've no idea how people will use the local loop as it migrates from copper to fibre. I will say though that if people are 'expected' to use mobile it'll have to be improved. Brackley isn't the back-end of beyond and yet half the people I know can't get a mobile signal indoors. I get one bar in my entrance hall (all three square metres of it) and 'emergency calls only' everywhere else.

            But if/when we have FTTP/H then it becomes moot. Data is data and if people want to make calls that get routed over a 'wired' connection then they will. I have no particular opinion on the matter either way.

            1. gerryg

              @AndrueC, er, no not you

              I was referencing the original a/c hence the title of my post.

              Perhaps one fewer espresso before you next post?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      If only it were so simple. Only a minority of premises within reach of FTTP actually want it. If someone has only a landline in their house - which fits the bill for plenty of older people or what have you - why would you spend hundreds, possibly thousands of pounds in ripping out something that already works and replacing it with something new that the user will still use for the same purpose? They'll not be spending enough on their landline to recoup the cost of migrating them to fibre so those charges will get lumped onto the bills of the people who do use it for super-whizzy Internet.

      It's a tricky business. Companies have to borrow money to invest in this stuff, but banks and investors want a quick return and customers don't expect to pay any more for the fast access.

      In the US Verizon have given up on their fibre roll-out and will re-sell cable company connections instead. Elsewhere, large scale roll-outs are at least partially government funded. Imagine what Apple would look like if they could only sell their shiny bits of wizardry for the same amount of money as the humdrum products they are competing against.

  3. Magani

    “Our officers will employ a wide range of robust tactics..."

    Ho, ho, ho. How many manholes are there for potential malefactors to fall down before they get to the cop shop?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Lots, they've all had the covers nicked...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How about we lynch the thieving pikey scuzzbags with the copper cable they've nicked?!! Hang 'em off a lamppost and set an example!

    Sick of my trains being cancelled and delayed because some pikey can't be arsed to get a real job, easier to thieve cable off the lines and fence it.

    1. Josco

      I can see why you are anonymous, but I think you must be Jeremy Clarkson!

      1. handle

        Not possible

        Jeremy Clarkson would never catch a train.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not possible

          "Jeremy Clarkson would never catch a train."

          Maybe it's The Stigg.

  5. Dr. Mouse

    "The Yard added that a single piece of copper cable nicked from an underground telephone network could knock out the landlines to more than 200 homes and businesses for up to three days at a time."

    Doesn't sound like a well designed infrastructure to me... ah, wait, it's BT, I get it.

    1. Jared Hunt

      Oh aye?

      How would you design it then? 200 pair copper cable is the small fry, last mile stuff used to link directly to premises. Do you seriously expect telcos to run backup cables over seperate routes with seperate ducts, poles, cabs etc. Who do you think would end up paying for that eh?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Excuse me?

      That's not the point is it?! Cars are pretty inefficient compared to pushbikes but doesn't give you the right to nick 'em does it?!

      I don't care how badly designed it is, last time I checked nicking stuff that isn't yours is still illegal.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So what's your alternative? Individual continuous cables from the exchange all the way to your house? Do you think that would reduce the cost of line rental and phone calls? The access network is a tree topology - that's not a BT design decision, that's how telcos do access - it's the most efficient model.

      How many customers do you think would be affected if someone stole a 500 pair cable belonging to France Telecom? Or a length of power cable supplying a Virgin cabinet? Or the coax feeder cable supplying the antennas at a cell site? Infrastructure is shared between users in the majority of the network. If you nick a bit, multiple users will be affected. It's possible to provide a second, resillient connection but that will always lead to a cost more than double that of the unprotected solution. Should every landline customer have their bills more than doubled, or should the people nicking the infrastructure be stopped from doing it?

      I'm amazed that anyone would post such a strongly opinioned view on a topic about which they plainly have nothing even approaching a clue. I'm also amazed that a poster on The Register would have approximately zero knowledge of networking - how is it possible to work effectively in any IT role and not even have a grasp of the basics?

      1. The First Dave


        "how is it possible to work effectively in any IT role and not even have a grasp of the basics?"

        dunno, why don't you ask my manager, and her manager?

  6. Andy Neale

    Regulation is needed urgently

    It should be a priority to enforce strict controls on dealing in scrap. Selling scrap without proof of ID and source along with a compulsory registration scheme for dealers would be a good start.

    1. Owain 1

      shipped abroad

      I was thinking about this, but it would never work. They'd just (and they probably do already) ship it abroad. No way you can catch this at the scrap yard :(

    2. petur

      RE: Regulation is needed urgently

      In Belgium you have to show ID when bringing in scrap metal (for money), didn't help the battle against these thieves AT ALL.

      1. Andy Neale

        Didn't work in Belgium...

        ..perhaps it's the 'cash' transaction that needs removing....the more trackable the transaction is etc... As for shipping abroad, well if we can reduce/kill the domestic trade at least the police will have only one area to investigate.

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge

      That "good start" is already made

      Unfortunately there are a lot of scrap dealers who are still willing to pay cash-in-hand and accept obviously false names.

      Those scrap dealers need catching and prosecuting, and hopefully that is what this 'operation' is about.

  7. Blake St. Claire

    Operation Ferrous

    To catch _copper_ thieves.

    Do they not know what ferrous means?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      summat to do wif being dahn the dawgs, innit?

    2. Grumpy Developer

      Maybe it's irony?

    3. handle

      To be fair's only the title that implies that they are only after copper - and that might be an intentional bad pun by El Reg. Miserable though the consequences of copper theft are, stealing cast-iron manhole covers is tantamount to manslaugher. Although I noticed that some scumbag had stolen the lightning conductor strap to as high as they could reach from one of the Ikea Croydon chimneys. I wonder what will happen next time it's struck by lightning?

      1. Steven Jones


        "wonder what will happen next time it's struck by lightning?"

        Those of us who've had the hellish experience of being in an IKEA store at a weekend will drop to our knees and think there is a god as the place burns to the ground.

  8. Rusty 1

    This should be conducive to getting some bright spark to conduct conductor theft investigations.

  9. David James

    Employ more coppers...

    ...or will they get stolen too?

    Warm coat today

  10. Richard IV

    There's got to be a better subheading in there!

    Cop op to scupper copper scrappers?

  11. Andrew 98

    Copper Coppers?

    OK. Cu

    1. Steve Evans

      Not if I "Cu" first!

      (That was terrible!)

  12. technohead95

    Why crackdown on the thieves?

    When it's easier to crackdown on the scrap metal buyers who help create the demand. There is a lot the government can do to clamp down on this. Make you voice heard by signing the e-petition here: It won't stop all the thieves but it should stop the vast majority as it would kerb the quick buck type folks.

    1. Steve Evans

      It's a start...

      Insisting on payment into a bank, or by cheque...

      Add to that a photograph of the person concerned and his pile of scrap, and a photograph of his vehicle registration, driving licence and the VIN tag of transit van too, just for good measure.

      Then make the fine for handling stolen metal or failure to keep proper records somewhere in the bankruptcy region.

  13. CowardlyAndrew

    Maybe in two hundred years people will wonder whether the police were fondly called coppers because they protected the copper networks that in the 23rd century will have been replaced with nano-tube cables, where the light travels in a vacuum to squeeze the last once of speed out of it.

    1. Steve Evans

      We'll be using neutrinos. Light is too slow.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Good Idea!

        The great advantage neutrinos have is that they are literally point-to-point. They go in a straight line through everything. I suspect this will give them a considerable speed advantage over particles which have to travel round corners...

  14. Hollerith 1

    These guys stop at nothing

    I worked for an energy company. Around one storage depot they had a huge wire fence etc. Thieves rammed a flat-bed truck through it, followed on with loaders, loading up the flat-bed and roared away into the night. Watchman on duty -- dunno if nobbled or made himself scarce. We are talking huge coils of copper.

    If you can't track thieves, can you vet buyers? maybe in UK, but not off-shore.

  15. handle

    Happened again today

    A Barbara Hepworth sculpture in Dulwich Park, London:

    Sign that petition!

    1. The Fuzzy Wotnot

      Nail the thieving, philistine sods up! Nail 'em up, I say!

      Bring back the cat!!!

  16. Stratman

    Seeing as both the pikeys and scrappies are already breaking the law, I doubt they'll be deterred by more sheaves of legislation thrown at them. Especially if plod is too busy sitting in by the roadside waiting for the ANPR to go 'Bingly bingly boing' to actually enforce it.

  17. Mongo 1

    Commentards slow tonight

    Metal thefts at all-time high; police are following all leads.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hard Hat?

    Is it really necessary to wear a hard hat to examine a piece of copper?

    Oh, and I /need/ a grammar Nazi! Never thought I would, but my own language is baffling me these days...

    Should it be "other’s lives" or "others' lives?"

    Education gratefully received ...

  19. Juan Inamillion

    Maybe it's time

    For Fahrenheit 1981

    Oh dear...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It does make me wonder whether this was less of an issue when aluminium was more widely used in the critical infrastructure. I mean close-knit families of light fingered souls of no fixed abode are hardly a modern phenomenon.

    Perhaps more aluminium is the solution where optical fibre isn't appropriate. I hear it's set make a big impact in the automotive industry in the coming years.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Aluminium is not a great replacement for copper. The GPO used it in the 70's when copper prices soared and government cut the available budgets. At a time of big growth in the telephone network the GPO had the choice of meeting most of the demand with aluminium or sticking with copper and only meeting less than half - at the long term cost of a greater maintenance load.

      Aluminium isn't a great conductor, doesn't like being left outside for decades and doesn't like being bent. Capacitance, inductance, resistance - all are worse than copper. Its relatively poor electrical performance makes it poor for high-frequency signals (such as broadband).

      If fibre's not appropriate due to terrain or distance, any other cabled solution will face the same challenges. In those cases a radio solution will almost certainly work better.

  21. Slabfondler
    Paris Hilton


    Bueller? Bueller?

    I wold rather they have metal detectors at train and tube stations to catch those with stolen copper than dogs trying to catch some poor sod with a joint down his sock. Oh wait, like large scale drug dealers, metal thieves likely don't use public transport to move their stolen/illegal goods.

    Seriously though, regulation of scrap dealers, and tougher penalties might help a bit with this.

    'cause Paris loves Bueller too!

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