Tougher sentences needed scrap metal thieves say transport bosses

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TRANSPORT company Network Rail is calling for tougher consequences for metal thieves after a botched attempt to steal signalling cable from a major train station caused chaos for commuters.

Trains between Portsmouth and London were operating on a dramatically reduced timetable as rush hour hit yesterday morning, following the theft attempt near Guildford Railway Station.

Thieves had cut one of the cables from the rail line and are believed to have abandoned the job when hydraulic fluid started pouring out of the cable.

All journey times passing through the station were delayed by up to half an hour, from 3.28am – when the problem was discovered – to 12.30pm when it was resolved.

Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route managing director for Wessex, said: ‘Mindless thieves have again caused delays and disruption for thousands of people who use this busy commuter route every day.

‘Cable theft is a huge issue and one which the rail industry is committed to tackling – but we can’t do it alone.

‘We need to see tougher sentences for cable thieves in the courts and the police must be given the powers they need to shut down the scrap dealers who are profiting from the travelling public’s misery.’

Trains leaving from Portsmouth Harbour to London Waterloo at 15 minutes past the hour were cancelled, as were those returning from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour on the hour.

British Transport Police officers are keen to highlight the dangers of the incident.

Detective Chief Inspector Alison Evans said: ‘The act of stealing, or attempting to steal, cable is extremely dangerous.

‘What thieves don’t realise is that they are working on live cable, carrying up to 750 volts which can cause extensive burns or is enough to kill. By attempting to steal it they are seriously putting their lives at risk.’

Officers are urging anyone with any information to come forward and independent charity Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to £1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any cable thieves.

DCI Alison Evans added: ‘Cable theft is a major problem on the rail system and BTP is devoting considerable resources to combating it.

‘We have arrested a number of people recently and the courts are handing out heavy sentences to thieves.

‘However, these incidents continue to occur and we are looking at new ways, particularly by making it much more difficult for thieves to dispose of stolen metal, to deal with it.’ Anyone with any information should contact British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 38 of 12/09/2011 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.