Copper Cable Thieves Strike Openreach’s Network in County Tyrone

Some 700 homes and businesses in the County Tyrone (Northern Ireland) town of Dungannon have suffered significant broadband and phone connectivity problems, which occurred after criminals damaged Openreach’s local network during the theft of a “large quantity” of their copper telecoms cable.

The incident is understood to have occurred at around 1:15am on Tuesday (29th May 2024) morning in the vicinity of the Clonfeacle Road. Local reports noted that alarms had been set off in the area, and the police later discovered “a quarter mile of cable” on a nearby road (roughly 400 metres). Sadly, the perpetrators of such crimes never have any regard for the harm they cause to locals, some of which are dependent upon the related services.

NOTE: Such thefts normally occur late at night and often – but not always – in rural or suburban areas (slower police response) and around manhole covers, cables, poles and any other parts of their broadband network. It typically takes a small gang to conduct the crime.

Crimes like this have become increasingly common in recent years, driven in part by the high price of copper and the rising cost of living that has pushed more people into poverty, although a series of UK-wide arrests toward the end of 2022 (example) – followed by some convictions – did put a limited dent in the activity.

Openreach has also seen a sharp 30% reduction in cable theft over the past year, not least after introducing a new forensic liquid marker (SelectaDNA) to help track and protect their network (here). But that takes time to deploy and can’t be added to cables that are already in the ground.

Inspector McNeill said (Irish News):

“We would ask anyone who may have been in the area and noticed anything suspicious, particularly those who may have dashcam or other footage, to contact us on 101, quoting reference number 70 of 28/05/24.

We would also like to remind those involved of the risks in this type of behaviour, not only to themselves but also to members of the public. Theft of metal or cable may lead to flooding, risk of electric shock, and loss of emergency phone services.

The local community can help us. If you live near an empty house, a church, a school, or communications hub, please contact the police if you see someone you don’t think should be there. If it’s an unusual time for contractors to be working, ask yourself – do they seem to be from a legitimate company?

If any behaviour rouses suspicions – contact police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.”

The ongoing deployment of full fibre (FTTP) lines should, eventually, help to reduce such thefts as fibre has no value to thieves. But this won’t completely stop the problem from occurring because fibre and copper cables often share some of the same ducts, and thieves sometimes confuse the two. BT and Openreach will eventually remove their copper cables too, but that’s a much longer process.

Openreach also has a partnership with Crimestoppers, which sometimes offers rewards for information given anonymously to the charity about cable thefts, if it leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible – you can contact them 100% anonymously on 0800 555 111 or use their anonymous online form. You can also contact Openreach’s security team direct or report via the local police (101), or if you see a crime in progress, then call the police on 999. Credits to Thinkbroadband for spotting this news.

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