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Cops hunt looter as trapped passengers are being rescued

PUBLISHED: 00:17 07 June 2008 | UPDATED: 13:21 05 October 2010

Caught on camera... rail looter stealing cables

Caught on camera... rail looter stealing cables

COPS are looking for this man after he was caught on camera taking cable from Liverpool St main-line railway in East London. He was photographed by an Advertiser reader brazenly collecting copper cable in broad daylight at Bethnal Green while power supplies were switched off to rescue 1,000 passengers trapped when a bridge support collapsed onto the tracks last Wednesday. The man is seen bundling the cables into a bag and passing them to someone waiting below in Three Colts-lane

ADVERTISER EXCLUSIVE By Victoria Huntley

COPS are looking for this man after he was caught on camera taking cable from Liverpool Street main-line railway in East London.

Power supplies to the overhead cables had been switched off after a bridge support collapsed onto the tracks last Wednesday which brought chaos to the network.

The man was photographed by an East London Advertiser reader who watched him brazenly collect lengths of copper cable in broad daylight a few hundred yards from Bethnal Green station, bundle them into a bag and pass them to someone waiting below the viaduct in Three Colts-lane.

The incident has uncovered a massive problem of trackside thefts that has hit the railways as the price of scrap metal soars.

Transport Police have had to set up a special task force squad to tackle the thieves.

"The price of copper has gone up so much in two years that scrap metal theft has become a real problem," Det Ins Terry Pearce told the Advertiser.

"Most incidents are in rural areas where the thieves are less likely to be spotted.

"But this man at Bethnal Green has been fairly brazen. We need to talk to him to establish what he was doing on the railway at that time."

The price of copper has soared to around $7,000-a-tonne because of increasing demand for raw materials in countries like China and India. Scrap yards all over Britain are raking in the profits as a result.

"We get all kinds of people stealing scrap metal," Det Ins Pearce added.

"They range from organised gangs to drug addicts looking to get their next fix.

"Even alcoholics take £5 of scrap to a yard and then go off and by some drink."

Raiders have occasionally been known to electrocute themselves cutting through overhead 'live' cables on railways, detectives reveal.

Phone companies also fall victim to brazen street theft when thieves remove heavy manhole covers and steal up to half-a-mile of copper cable at a time, using a truck to pull it out of the ground.

East End scrap dealer Michael Winterbourne, who runs Burdett's yard by the Bethnal Green railway arches, is required by law to record the names and addresses of anyone supplying raw material, as well as details of the goods bought and if appropriate where they are then sold on to.

He has to keep his records for two years.

An Advertiser reporter talked to Mr Winterbourne this week as a steady trickle of customers arrived at his yard just off Cambridge Heath-road with metals ranging from cables to waste materials from building sites.

Plain clothes police regularly park near his yard monitoring the comings and goings, he revealed, more interested in the customers rather than his business.

He did not recognise the man in our photo.

"I do everything by the book and comply with everything," he assured.

"But it's not my job to decide whether someone has stolen something or not, or whether they're a junkie. That sort of thing is up to the police."

He added: "I wish people wouldn't bring stolen stuff in here.

"It would save me a lot of hassle with lawyers.

"I've never been prosecuted, though. It's so difficult to prove stuff."

Someone brought in a copper pot lid to his yard just after Christmas, which had a picture of Christ on it. He suspected it was from St John's parish church in Bethnal Green, just up the road.

"I bought it off him and put it to one side," he admitted.

"A bit later the vicar turned up. I was about to call him.

"He'd been looking for it and I just handed it over to him.

"The vicar was totally amazed and delighted. He couldn't believe he'd got it back.

"If I'd turned that guy away, he would have just smashed the thing up and handed it in separately."

Meanwhile, British Transport Police have begun an appeal after being shown the Advertiser photos for witness who may have seen suspects at Bethnal Green overhead railway junction last Wednesday, between 7.15 and 8.15pm, when stranded passengers were being rescued a mile down the track.

They urge anyone with information to contact them on 0800-405040, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555111.

victoria.huntley@archant.co.uk


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