METAL thieves put their lives at risk by cutting through a live electricity supply to saw down three 24ft lampposts.
Hartlepool Borough Council has been left with a £3,000 bill to replace the lights in Old Cemetery Road, Hartlepool, and has urged scrap merchants to help them and the police by reporting anyone who tries to weigh them in for cash.
The thefts were reported earlier this week when residents reported that all of the street lights were off, and it emerged the cables supplying power to all of the lampposts had been damaged.
In a separate incident in nearby Durham Street, the front of an empty pillar box was ripped off, forcing Royal Mail chiefs to put a “sorry for any inconvenience” sticker on the damaged postbox.
Councillor John Marshall, who represents the St Hilda’s ward where the thefts took place, said he wasn’t surprised at the lengths scrap thieves go to to make quick cash.
He said: “This problem of metal thefts has been going on for years down here, and I’m sorry to say that I’m not surprised any more at what these people will take.
“In the past, they have sawed through live gas supplies. They’ll take anything, and have total disregard for the risks they are putting themselves and others at.
“If the punishments were stronger, maybe that would act as a deterrent. If they cause £3,000 worth of damage, then make them pay rather than taking it out of the public purse.
“These people also need to understand the consequences of what they are doing.”
Coun Marshall is also critical of the scrap merchants who take the metal from the thieves.
He added: “Surely the dealers should be punished. You don’t just stumble across three stolen lampposts, they are obviously pinched.
“Is that not receiving stolen goods? These people are making a decision to make money off a criminal, and in my opinion if they are found to have this stuff in their yards then they should be stopped from making a living in this way.”
A council spokesman said: “Three six-metre high steel posts in Old Cemetery Road were stolen some time over the course of the weekend.
“Not only did the thieves saw through steel columns at the bottom, they also sawed through cables and tried to pull out some of the other cables from underground. This blew the main fuses in each of the three lamps and cut off power to other lights along the road.”
He added: “Cutting through live cables was an unbelievably reckless act and the thieves were extremely fortunate not to be electrocuted.
“They will get very little in scrap value but it will cost the council over £3,000 to replace the three lamps and columns and the cables.
“If anybody has any information about the theft we would urge them to contact the police. We would also ask local scrap yards to contact the police if they are approached by anyone trying to sell them these lamp posts.”
On Wednesday, police carried out a series of raids across Hartlepool in their long-running war against scrap thieves.
A spokeswoman for Cleveland Police said: “Last weekend, three lampposts were cut down on Old Cemetery Road on the Headland.
“Each lamppost is six metres long along and a further five lanterns were stolen . The lampposts are grey in colour and have specific references, xxx16, xxx31 and xxx32.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact PC Lorene Haworth of Hartlepool Police on (01642) 302110 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.