POLICE and fire chiefs have joined forces to warn metal thieves they are putting lives at risk by tampering with gas boilers and meters.
Superintendant Glenn Gudgeon spoke out after Michael Casey and Luke Gofton were locked up for attempting to rip a boiler from a house in Sheriff Street, Hartlepool, in August.
The call has been backed up by Dave Turton, Cleveland Fire Bridage’s district manager for Hartlepool, who has also appealed for owners of vacant properties to take safety measures to prevent any similar explosions in the future.
Casey, 48, admitted burglary and was jailed at Teesside Crown Court for 18 months while 19-year-old Gofton was sentenced to two and a half years in a youth detention centre.
The court heard the pair sparked an explosion at the house by cutting through a gas pipe.
While police across Hartlepool are continuing to target metal thieves who are looking to cash in by weighing in their hauls, Supt Gudgeon warns that someone could be killed by tampering with live gas pipes.
Supt Gudgeon said: “We have said before that metal theft is a big problem, and one which we are trying to address in Hartlepool.
“But tampering with gas pipes and boilers takes the problem to a higher level.
“These are highly volatile and dangerous pieces of equipment which should never be touched by anyone unless they are an expert.
“We have seen explosions caused by pipes being ripped apart, and lives are being put at risk.”
Supt Gudgeon added: “If incidents like this continue, I would warn people that the police, our partners and the judicial system will come down hard on any offenders.”
Dave Turton, Cleveland Fire Bridage’s district manager for Hartlepool, has urged landlords of properties that are vacant to isolate the gas before it reaches the meter so that any tampered devices will not let off gas if they are stolen.
He said: “We have seen a couple of cases like this in the town this year and it is only going to increase, there is no doubt of that.
“We could be talking about a really serious incident because the size of the explosion is dependent on how long the gas is left to escape. If there is a theft and the gas is allowed to escape for a long period, it will find a spark somewhere and it could cause a huge explosion.”
He added: “I would urge landlords of vacant properties to get the gas isolated before the meter so that if something like this happens then the affects will be less profound.
“It needs to be isolated before it gets to the house so there is no gas escaping.
“We always work closely with the police to try and bring to justice anyone who puts peoples’ lives at risk, and that’s the same with any deliberate fire.”