Northern Ireland

Electricity worth £8m stolen in Northern Ireland every year

Image caption Spotlight said that everyone in Northern Ireland who pays an electric bill is affected by meter cheats

About £8m of electricity is stolen in Northern Ireland every year, a BBC Spotlight investigation has found.

The number of people caught stealing power has risen from 400 in 2007, to 2,000 in 2012.

In the past five years the number of people prosecuted rose from 19 to 200 last year.

The programme found that some of the "meter cheaters" are advertising their services online.

Spotlight secretly filmed one as he rigged a meter which, unknown to him, was fake and had been installed by experts.

He claimed to have rigged up to 300 meters in Belfast.

He told me the cost is about £30 or £40, depending on the area, and he has by passed meters for homes and businesses across the city.

He even named some places.

"Honestly, I'm doing five, six maybe even 10 a week," he said.

"I would say there is about 50 houses on the street and I would say at least 30 of them have been done."

Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE), which owns the meters, said tampered meters were dangerous and posed a fire risk.

Spotlight showed the footage to NIE's metering manager, Tom Doran.

"I couldn't live in a house with that meter," he said.

"If you are paying £30 to get that done, you are putting a price tag on your head, and your family's head, and your property of £30.

"You are actually saying 'that is the worth that I am putting on my life' and that is the frightening bit, that they don't realise that."

A grandmother from Londonderry is one of those who has been prosecuted.

She is currently serving a six month sentence for by-passing her meter.

Spotlight talked to her daughter, who said the family were stunned by the court's decision.

"You shouldn't tamper with the electric or whatever," she said.

"There are things people shouldn't do but they do it. She didn't think she would end up in jail."

The programme also explores why some of those within the electricity industry are reluctant to talk about fraud and how everyone in Northern Ireland who pays an electric bill is affected.

Spotlight - The Meter Cheaters. BBC 1 22:35 GMT Tuesday 26 February.