Copper Cable Thieves Strike Openreach’s Network in New Forest

Homes and businesses in the New Forest (Hampshire, England) village of Everton were left cut-off from part of Openreach’s UK broadband and phone services this week, which occurred after criminals caused significant damage to the network while attempting to steal the operator’s copper telecoms cable.

The incident, which began on Monday, impacted 128 premises across the community and local reports (here) quote Hampshire Police as saying that 70 metres of copper cable was pulled up from a point on Lymington Road. Two men were spotted working in yellow jackets around a pavement near to that location a couple of days prior to the incident, possibly in preparation for the later theft.

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 common in recent years, driven in part by the high price of copper, 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. More recently, Openreach has seen a sharp 30% reduction in cable theft over the past year after introducing a new forensic liquid marker (SelectaDNA) to help track and protect their network (here).

However, SelectaDNA takes time to deploy and can’t be added to cables that are already in the ground, which leaves some scope for thieves to continue targeting the operator’s core copper cables. 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.

An Openreach spokesperson said:

“We’re really disappointed that residents in the Everton area have borne the brunt of criminal behaviour and theft from our network. These attacks cause significant damage and unacceptable disruption to the lives of local people and put vulnerable people at risk.

Our cable was cut on Monday and the damage has impacted phone and broadband services to around 128 local homes and businesses. Engineers are working to restore services as quickly and safely as possible.”

Feedback posted to the local Facebook community group suggests that at least some of the affected homes may have been reconnected by late afternoon on Monday. We have since asked Openreach to supply a more up-to-date statement and await their response.

The rollout 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.

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