Police investigating a series of copper cabling thefts, some involving the cutting down of electricity pylons, believe that a single criminal gang is responsible.
Officers are investigating a number of recent incidents in the Broughshane and Glens areas and are seeking information from the public as part of their investigation as well as warning of the dangers posed when pylons and live cables are damaged in this way.
NIE has also issued a strong safety warning following the spate of damage to electricity equipment over recent days.
It is understood there have been four separate incidents where poles have been sawed down in order to steal overhead electricity lines or electricity wire has been ripped off the side of homes.
The incidents happened overnight, cutting power to local residents and risking the serious injury of the perpetrators, passers-by or livestock, NIE have said.
On Saturday, January 18, police received a report of electricity pylons damaged and copper cabling stolen in the Raceview Road, Broughshane and the Buckna Road, Drumleckney.
On Monday, January 20, five electricity pylons were damaged and a quantity of cabling stolen from the Coast Road area of Glenarm. The same day, police were called to the Carnalbanagh Road area of Broughshane after the suspected theft of a quantity of cable from a derelict premises.
Police have urged anyone who notices suspicious activity close to power lines, substations or other NIE or utility company premises to contact them immediately on 999.
A spokesperson said: “The theft of metal and cable can expose the community to huge dangers such as the loss of 999 phone services and, of course, the risk of electrocution due to tampering with live power cables or substations.”
Sam Gibson, of NIE, said, “Anyone interfering with electricity equipment is putting their lives at risk. They are also showing a complete disregard for the local community by leaving equipment in a dangerous state and leaving homes without power.
“We are working closely with the PSNI to stamp out this type of practice and would encourage anyone in the local community who has information to come forward.
“This week we gave evidence at Stormont about the danger and disruption that metal theft can cause when criminals target utility services. We are keen to see tighter legislation in place to ensure that stolen metal is hard to sell – literally too hot to handle.”
Roy Beggs MLA, who is proposing a bill to combat this type of crime, said: “The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill in England and Wales has contributed to a significant reduction in metal theft as criminals discover the outlet for anonymous stolen metal has ended. Similar legislation in Northern Ireland would help reduce metal theft which as with these incidents causes great inconvenience and danger to the local community. I would urge the public to find out more about my Private Members Bill consultation on my website and add their support.”
Meanwhile, police enquiries are continuing and police would appeal to anyone with any information to report it to police on 0845 600 8000. Or, to provide information without giving your details, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.