back to article Cable thieves wreak havoc for cops, BT punters

BT customers in Hertfordshire suffered lengthy outages late last week, after the national telco's underground cabling in that area was apparently targeted by thieves. One El Reg reader, who uses BT's business broadband, complained about the company's "incoherent response" to requests for an explanation about the downtime. " …


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  1. Bluenose

    What's the replacement option?

    I wonder whether BT replace stolen copper cable with fibre optic? Could result in a quicker (although more expensive rollout) of their new fibre optic network to all parts of the country. Worse still is this something people in places not currently on the list for fibre to the cabinet are doing to try and force an upgrade from their current low speeds?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      You would think so, wouldn't you?

      Chatting with an engineer who was replacing the cable to my mum's house just before Christmas he said that most exchanges are already connected by fibre to the backbone and the full FTTH rollout is under way. Unfortunately that doesn't stop the head-the-balls from cutting cable without checking beforehand whether there's any copper in it. As more and more fibre is rolled out that is increasingly what's happening. The repairs are quicker and cheaper but people are still cut off.

      Here in Jormany they're starting to rollout "fingerprinted" cable which makes tracing the culprits at the point of sale a lot easier. This seems to be having an effect although I suspect it will just displace the activity back to the building sector.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      Virgin Media has problems with cable theft, and their network is fibre optic. Criminals just see cable and rip it up not really caring or knowing what it is.

      Also, you can't just put a fibre optic cable in place of a copper cable. You need different stuff at either end of the line, and a much bigger green cabinet in the street to house it. If you want to get the phone lines up and running as quickly as possible, replacing all that at the same time isn't really practical.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. AndrueC Silver badge

        Some misinformation here. Both BT and VM use fibre to connect exchanges together and have done for many years. BT started its replacement programme as soon as it was floated - it was basically a condition of its creation. The only copper left in BT's network is in the local loop. From the exchange back it's the very latest fibre technology.

        Where things are different is in the local loop (the bit between the exchange premises). A traditional BT loop is copper all the way here - and that's why broadband can be a problem. VM is fibre to the neighbourhood then a single coax cable looping round a number of premises. BT's new FTTC local loop has fibre running to the street-side cabinets. This means it probably has about the same length of fibre as the VM. The only difference is that each premises has its own twisted pair cable rather than sharing a single cable with everyone else. Unfortunately twisted pair is not as good as coax so you have exclusive access to somewhat less whereas VM customers have shared access to something more.

        But all this is by the by. The kind of git/numpty/tosser that steals cable is either too thick to know the difference or just doesn't give a toss. They will dig up any cable they can find whether it's copper or fibre. It's only when they try to sell it that they find out the difference.

        F'in bastards the lot of them.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "a single coax cable looping round a number of premises"

          So if some knobjockey connects iffy equipment they knock out the whole street?

          1. AndrueC Silver badge

            >So if some knobjockey connects iffy equipment they knock out the whole street?

            Maybe. I don't know how it's terminated though. It might be a tee connector so at least a bad install can't physically cut off the neighbours. I vaguely recall from my polytechnic days that loops have impedance and echo issues. Presumably anything plugged into the loop can therefore screw around with your neighbours.

    3. Terry Barnes

      It's not as easy as that alas. Thieves steal lengths of cable - where a two mile cable might be made up of four half mile lengths jointed together. Even the most skilled cable jointer finds it tricky to join a length of fibre into two lengths of copper. So, to replace with fibre you'd need to do the whole length, and then have somewhere to terminate it. It's the difference between being out of service for a day or two while a new length is run in and jointed, or several weeks while a new cabinet is installed to terminate fibre.

  2. Kevin Fairhurst

    We were hit by this on Thursday evening, around 630-7pm. Thought it was due to the snow we were having, or due to the fact that Sky's systems were being upgraded at the time. When Sky's service status page started up again the next day, they reported it as being an ongoing issue outside of their control. Around lunchtime they added the fact that it was down to cable theft. We finally got our broadband back at around 4am on Saturday morning...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nail the bastards

    And I don't mean BT. These thefts may be motivated by greed, but they are damaging our national infrastructure (power and communications) and should be pursued as seriously as if they were acts of terrorism. Lets have some serious policing and proper consequences for the crimes.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Calm down

      As it's privately owned by BT it can't be "part of the national infrastructure". And, as usual, calls for stiffer penalties - do you know what the existing ones are? - mean bollocks all if you don't catch them which generally means spending money on security and law *enforcement*.

      Disruptive as it is, it is not terrorism but perhaps more akin to causing a public nuisance by blocking a road, etc. As many of the perpetrators are probably not aware of the consequences of their actions it's probably a good idea to try and raise awareness but at the end of the day such high prices for metals are driving the market. In a sense we're lucky that we only get cables nicked as opposed to more or less all out war in Africa when it comes to mining the raw minerals.

      1. Skoorb

        Actually, a lot of private companies do run the National Infrastructure

        For an idea of what the National Infrastructure is, have a look at the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure's website at

        The CPNI is a joint exercise between various parts of the government, some spooks and parts of the private sector.

      2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        It aint disruptive

        its downright f***ing dangerous, especially when said cable theives move on to stealing those nice cables that run along side every railway line..... oops we've shorted the red to the green while sawing through with the result a 140mph train goes into the back of the local service

        But a far better idea would be to put a nice copper bar out in the open in every substation, and wire it to the 11Kv supply.... after a while natural selection will get rid of the metal theives

        1. CT

          Pretty sure that the signals fail safe, i.e. default to red, like a lot of other things on the railway are designed to.

          But yes, the disruption is enormous, and "something must be done"

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Railway signalling engineers have it bashed into them that the green aspect is, in fact, the danger signal (green for danger!) because with the red aspect showing, nothing should be moving. Hence fail-safe means failing to red. Which is confusing when they refer to SPAD, of course.

    2. Willywigwam

      No one gives a damn except those affected!

      You might think that was a good idea and worth encouraging. Do everything possible to catch these thieves and punish them as much as possible when they are caught! However the coppers couldn't give a toss!

      Early one morning at around 5am I was walking past some boarded up maisonettes, which have since been demolished. I saw a man on the roof trying to gain access in order to steal any metals or other items he could sell. When I got home, a few minutes later, I telephoned the security firm whose number was on the metal shutters which say that all metals and other valuables have been removed from the premises. The person that I spoke to said it's not their responsibility after x o clock, after that time it's the police who are responsible for the security.

      Therefore I telephoned the local police centre, I thought that 999 was a bit OTT as it didn't seem an emergency. I got transferred around and the person that I spoke to told me that I should of called 999 in a "why you bothering us with this?" sort of way. I asked him whether he was going to do anything about it and he said he would find someone to deal with it and he put me on hold. I held and held and held for about 10 minutes and nothing. Basically he couldn't be bothered!

      If you wonder why so many people are doing this kind of thing, then think about the response I got. With so little chance of getting caught, the police not bothering, security firms "it's not our responsibility", is it any wonder why this is happening?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @JustaKOS - " if they were acts of terrorism."

      What a great idea. While we're about it, how about making everything a terrorist offence. What a safe place the world would be.

      /sarcasm off.

      It has as much to do with terrorism as John Prescott's answer phone being listened to infringes his "human rights".

      What is unnacceptable is that if it was deigned to be terrorist related, the police would actually do something akin to doing what they're paid for.

      Just be glad you don't live in Surrey where the (appalling) conviction rate for report crime is apparently 20% -

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC 120214 1832

        You can stick you sarcasm up your arse: it wasn't necessary. If you'd read more closely you'd have seen "as if they were acts of terrorism". Meaning that there is very little distinction between the net effect of these acts and what would be a very fruitful terrorist campaign, and consequently the authorities ought to be jumping all over the perps. I'm well aware of their tendency to abuse the concept of terrorism and I wouldn't advocate that they define these acts as such. Merely that they give them a similar level of attention - because to be honest, the common crooks are having more impact on our quality of life than the real terrorists.

  4. Test Man

    I noticed the broadband going after 1930 on Thurs night - the DSL light on the router was on but the Internet light was off. Phone was fine though.

    Only found out Fri (from ispreview) that it was down to BT lines being cut. Turned out it was quite the disruption - HSBC branch on WGC was closed as all their cash machines and equipment stopped working as a result.

  5. TRT Silver badge

    It might take them a while...

    to catch these thieves, due to cuts in the amount of coppers around.

  6. bert Plucker

    work faster please

    As much as it bugs me that people blame BT when some feral locusts destroy the infrastructure I would like to think that by now they have assembled some sort of crack team with all the tools and cabling to be on their way in 10 mins or so. Bit like the AA or RAC.

    Instead I bet its just the usual trouble ticket being raised and the hope someone will pick it up and deal with it and endless jobsworths asking to be kept informed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Get a life!

      Are you kidding? If you are not, then W O W!

      I'd like to see you repair a fibre cable when it is freezing cold, dark and dangerous! Typical English, engage the mouth before the brain.

      Also, what is wrong with you, have you not got a mobile phone? Are you not able to connect via the mobile network in times when the fixed infrastructure is down?

      All it takes is a little though instead of a lot of whinging.

      (mumsy and father didn't do a very good job their)

      1. Andy ORourke

        You ever repaired a fibre cable?

        I have in the back of my nice warm, clean long wheel base, high top transit van.

        Nope, the real delay is getting the trouble ticket opened, getting it looked at by the first line maint teams, getting a good decision on what the cause is likley to be, finding what has been cut (fibre or copper), where it's been cut and then getting the right people to site.

        Repairing a fibre (even a high strand count fibre) is a pretty trivial matter, it's the 200 pair copper cables that are a real pain in the arse!

        1. kain preacher

          Back in the 80's this happened in Oakland,Ca. During a BART extension they manged to cut a 500 pair cable. The had to re-pull half mile of cable . I took 911 out . They had to hand the locals cell phones because it took them I think 4 days to fix it . Over 30,000 customers were affected .

  7. Jelliphiish

    terrible disruption

    i only know second hand, it happened in Ambridge a few weeks ago and they appeared to suffer terribly from it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Yes, they had a to send a second engineer out. The first one took an arrow to the knee.

      Bloody Archers

      Mines the one with the quiver

  8. Martin 71 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Definitely agree with Boris

    Some kind of high voltage DC feed in the cable or in the same ducting (DC to prevent interference) would weed out the morons. Also DEFINITELY treat it under the terrorism act as 'an act preparatory to an attack' or whatever the wording is. Have them f***ing tortured by the CIA, they're good at it

    1. AndyS


      Is cable theft the new paedophilia? I say we should bring back Sarah to moderate this convoluted string-em-up-fest.

      1. oddie

        won't anyone...

        think of the cable? :(

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Archers

    You know that a problem is serious when Ambridge was cut off from the telephone network for a week due to cable theft just recently.

  10. g e

    Presumably if nicked by the rozzers

    BT could claim criminal damages get a massive fine against them (to be unpaid, of course, but leave them perhaps sans accommodation and just with underpants and shoes) and have them detained as a flight risk (or sent back to Romania, as appropriate).

    Or maybe tie all the cable round their neck and drop them off in the middle of Dartmoor nekkid. If they walk back to civilisation, consider it time served - they'll surely have a different outlook on copper thieving. Oh, you can't do that cos they 'Have Rights'. damn.

    1. Christoph

      Charge them for the cable theft. Add on the cost of repairs.

      Then charge them separately for the disruption and inconvenience caused to each individual user in the disrupted area (I don't know if that could be done at present - would it have to be civil cases?).

      Tot the lot up - the final bill should keep them out of circulation for a bit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There's no point in doing that to the tw*ts who steal the cable, they've got nothing to lose.

        Tackle the scrapyards who buy it. Any stolen cable on the premises should mean a year in jail for receving stolen goods, with the contents of the yard confiscated and sold and the proceeds given to BT/Virgin/whoever to offset the losses. Make the scrappies so worried that *they* send the thieving buggers running if they dare to show up with cable of any sort.

  11. Phil A.

    BT Are hopeless with updates

    We recently had an outage when contractors repairing a bridge cut through an underground cable and disabled phone and broadband to our entire village. They repeatedly told us the fault was being actively worked on when we could clearly see it wasn't, and gave us about 5 different "guaranteed" dates when it would be fixed: The fault was finally fixed 12 days after the cable was first cut (and it only took OpenReach a day to fix it once they finally turned up).

    Throughout, all we asked of BT was an accurate timescale so we could arrange the most cost-effective alternative coverage with a 3G dongle, but that appeared to completely impossible for them to provide

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If a person dies because 999 cannot be contacted, the toe rags responsible for cutting the phones off need to be properly and severely punished. Maybe charging them with attempted murder?

    Not that the English know what “properly and severely punished” means. ½ can’t even control their own kids.

    1. Graham Marsden


      Err, this a comment from the same person who, in a reply above said "Also, what is wrong with you, have you not got a mobile phone? Are you not able to connect via the mobile network in times when the fixed infrastructure is down?"

      Please make up your mind, Obviously! or is these just "Typical English, engage the mouth before the brain" comment?

    2. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Let's charge "Obviously" with attempted abuse of the English language.

      Because "Obviously!" clearly doesn't know the difference between a 'toe rag' and a 'tow rag'.

      1. HipposRule
        Thumb Down


        As DH Lawrence used toe rag (with an e not w) in Sons and Lovers I'd give that more credence than you.

  13. roosterdude

    Where on earth is the redundancy? BT really are pants.

    What I really don't understand is:

    This took our most of WGC, Welwyn and many surrounding areas including most businesses in the town centre including most banks as well as the local Police headquarters. But Why?

    Why on earth would scumbags nicking cables take out such as huge area. Unless of course BT only backhaul this to the docklands via a single point of failure? What on earth is going on with that? Do we really have a monopoly national Telco running such important infrastructure and not demand that they at least make their exchanges fault tolerent? It's not as if they don't own all the fibre between the exchanges too. Why in their right minds would they not put a resilient connection in which doesn't run in the same ducts?

    Unforgivable and something needs to be done about it while this cowboy outfit runs their national monopoly.

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      By just how much do you propose putting up phone charges to pay for this redundancy?

    2. Gary O'Brien


      You did read the bit about the cables getting stolen ? For redundancy you would have to lay back-up cabling, then guess what.... yep they would be stolen as well.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. TRT Silver badge

    Alternative title...

    Coppers for copper copper robber shopper.

  15. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    When I read about this sort of thing I'm inclined to wonder whether our communications infrastructure really is a network, or just a haphazard collection of point-to-point connections with an occasional loop as a nod robustness.

    I suspect it's the latter.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop cash payments

    Its really that simple. Make all cash payments for scrap metal illegal. The penalty being a criminal record, complete forfeiture of the business and a lifelong disqualification from being a company director.

    I dunno what its like elsewhere but in Leics its bloody obvious who's doing the thieving - so called "travellers", AKA Irish criminals, for that's what they are in reality. I don't care if anyone thinks that's "racist", its the truth and its time people started speaking up.

    In this area we've had manholes removed, substations stripped, gates stolen and one guy actually got his garage door stolen FFS! Every day there's new reports of gas pipes being cut away from buildings, every single day.

    Time to stamp on the scrappies - hard.

  17. JeffyPooh

    Remember when...

    .."Cable Theft" meant hacking into the local Cable TV network to get channels without paying for them? Ah, the good old days when mindless entertainment was worth more than the metal it was carried over.

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