Wessex Water warns metal thefts 'risk civil emergency'

A civil emergency is "inevitable" if the rise in cable theft continues, Wessex Water has warned.

Metal thefts have cost the utility firm, which serves Somerset, Bristol, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, £1m since 2010.

Head of supply Nigel Martin told the BBC's Inside Out West programme: "Any one of these cable thefts can turn into a civil emergency."

The warning comes after the government announced a crackdown on the thefts.

Under new proposals, cash payments for scrap metal are to be outlawed and fines imposed under the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act "significantly increased".

Utility companies across the country have been targeted by gangs stealing electrical cabling, stripping off the rubber and selling the copper at scrap metal yards.

'Reckless activity'

One drinking water supply site in Wiltshire was targeted by thieves three times in two months last year, which put the supply to 6,000 homes at risk.

Mr Martin said: "Meddling with national infrastructure in this way can cause real harm.

"If cable thefts continue at the rate we have experienced in recent months, somewhere in the UK there's almost certain to be a significant loss of supply due to this reckless activity.

"It's inevitable. Thousands of customers could be put at risk."

North Somerset Council has also revealed that the theft of manhole covers in its area alone cost the taxpayer £40,000 last year.

It is now looking at introducing plastic manhole covers, with the first one currently being tested in Nailsea.

Deb Rose, of the Weston and North Somerset Motorcycle Action Group, welcomed the trial, saying the theft of manhole covers "represented a death threat" to motorcyclists and other road-users.

The full story can be seen on Inside Out West on BBC1 on 30 January at 19:30 GMT and afterwards on the BBC iplayer.

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