Metal theft rises on West Midlands motorways

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Media captionWhy the Midlands motorway network has become a magnet for metal thieves

Nearly 150 metal theft incidents happened on West Midlands motorways in a year, the Highways Agency said.

There were 149 incidents in the region in 2011-12, compared with seven in the previous year, a BBC Inside Out Freedom of Information request revealed.

They represent about three quarters of the 202 metal theft incidents on England's motorways in the same period.

It cost about £5.9m to repair and replace the metal across England in 2011-12, the Highways Agency estimated.

'Very high value'

Cables used for signs, cameras and roadside telephones have been targeted.

Darshan Ubhi, of the Highways Agency, said there was a "great deal" of new technology introduced as part of "managed motorways" in the Midlands, when electronic signs indicate vehicles can use the hard shoulder during congestion.

He added: "What's been targeted is the communications and more importantly the power cable that is feeding all of these devices."

PC John Martin, from Central Motorway Police Group, said the price of copper had increased "massively" over the last two years.

Image caption Homeowner Jim Sargent has installed CCTV

He said: "What's lying... in the cable is very expensive.

"As a product to be stolen it's actually very high value and it's quite profitable, even when it's sold as scrap."

In terms of attending incidents, PC Martin added: "As a general rule of thumb it has been [by] chance that we've just been in the location at the right time, where perhaps the highways cameras have gone down.

"We've put two and two together and thought 'is that a potential cable theft in progress?'"

Jim Sargent, who lives next to the M6 near Walsall, has installed CCTV because thieves have used his garden to get away.

He said: "When I go out to work... I've always got in the back of my head [about] my wife being there with my children on their own."

BBC Inside Out was shown on BBC One in the West Midlands region on Monday, 19 November at 19:30 GMT and can be watched on the iPlayer for seven days thereafter.

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