England

Merseyside electricity theft court cases highest in England

meter tampering
Image caption The electricity companies estimate there are about 25,000 cases of electricity theft each year

Almost a fifth of all people prosecuted for electricity theft in England and Wales live in Merseyside, figures show.

Of the 1,582 cases that went to court in 2014-15, Merseyside accounted for 267 while Greater Manchester had 178. There were 144 prosecutions in London.

One electrician, who admitted rigging meters, told the BBC poverty was the main reason people sought his services.

Police said the regional variation in prosecutions reflected enforcement effort rather than actual thefts.

The figures, released to BBC Essex by the Crown Prosecution Service under freedom of information laws, also showed Merseyside had seen the largest three-year increase in prosecution numbers.

In 2012-13 there were 112 cases in Merseyside, followed by 202 the following year and up to 267 in 2014-15.

Liverpool Citizens Advice Bureau did not respond to the BBC's questions about whether it had seen a rise in cases of people concerned about utility bills.

But a spokeswoman for Merseyside Police said the high levels of cases reflected its close working with electricity companies and "pro-active policing".

She said the force had done a "lot of work" targeting cannabis farms, which had been found to be stealing electricity as well as growing the class B drug.

During a raid five weeks ago in north Liverpool, officers found 200 cannabis plants and the electricity illegally bypassed.

Insp Sarah Jones said the mix of electricity tampering and extensive watering systems were a dangerous combination and accounted for a growing number of fires in the area.

"The people who set up these farms often tamper with electricity meters to steal electricity," she said. "And there will generally be a number of hot lamps which can overload electricity sockets, which can be running alongside extensive watering systems."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Merseyside, Greater Manchester, London and Lancashire have the most electricity theft prosecutions in England and Wales

The north west region had 619 court cases in total - more than the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands and the East of England combined.

Areas with the smallest number of prosecutions were North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire (four), Dorset (three) and Wiltshire (one).

£50 charge

One electrician, who spoke to BBC Essex on condition of anonymity, admitted tampering with about 20 meters and said he knew of other electricians and gas engineers who did the same.

Asked who he had rigged meters for, the electrician said: "They're all from different backgrounds. Mainly it's just people with no money.

"It has been single parents, people with with kids that are, I mean, in sort of poor quality housing that haemorrhage heat, a couple of old people - just all different people. Just people with no money.

"In my book they have as much right to be warm in the winter as anyone else. I wouldn't do it for someone doing it just out of greed."

It is understood some electricians charge as little as £50 to illegally rig a meter.

Alan Wells, of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, said risks included electric shocks and fires.

He said he was disappointed to learn some qualified electricians were carrying out illegal work.

Roger Critchell, director of operations for Crimestoppers, said: "This is not the victimless crime that some may perceive it to be.

"And not only is it highly dangerous, it also has very real links to serious and organised crime."

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