Copper pipe thefts ‘a persistent problem’ say community leaders

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As the incidence of metal thefts and copper piping thefts from premises increases, community workers in Derry’s Bogside have issued a joint appeal for vigilance and asked the community to remember: ‘This is not a victimless crime.’

In one incident last weekend, a home in Abbots Walk, earmarked for a family with special requirements due to a family member disability, had copper pipes and an oil boiler stolen. In total £5,000 of damage was caused.

While the Housing Executive does not collate exact numbers of metal thefts from their housing stock, they stated: “We are aware that there has been an increase in their number this year.”

Catherine Pollock of Triax Neighbourhood Management Team said: “These incidents are an ongoing and persistent problem. We deal with at least one incident of a house being stripped of metal per week in the Triax area. These are only the incidents which are reported to us at Triax. Sometimes they are not noticed until flooding of neighbouring properties occur.

“Neighbours of vacant properties are living in fear of flooding and anti-social behaviour.”

Neighbourhood Assist manager in Dove Hous Kathleen Bradley, said: “This type of action saddens me. We are faced with families looking for property on a daily basis at Dove House and here we have one ruined by selfish actions. Houses are not easy to come by and this one joins a long list of others boarded up due to metal thefts.

“This really isn’t a victimless crime, it increases the time people must wait on the housing list, families waiting on homes, families who at the minute are being forced to live apart.”

Sean Collins of Community Restorative Justice said: “We want the wider community to realise these are not victimless crimes. They affect the housing executive budgets, waiting lists and the neighbours as well as owners of the properties. Our concern is that those responsible will soon target unattended homes and not only vacant properties. People could return from work to find their property has been targeted.”

Worringly Mr. Collins believes: “This is not an imported problem. It is a crime against the community from within the community. I would ask those responsible to desist.”

Calling for mandatory identification checks at the point of sale for scrap metal, Ms. Pollock said: “It is time that those buying the scrap metal were held to account also. If there is no outlet, there is no demand and if there is no demand there is no crime.”

Mr. Collins added: “Those buying the scrap metal have a moral obligation irrespective of any legislative obligation to ensure the metal isn’t stolen. Our main message is this has to stop. The ‘sure it’s only an empty house’ attitude has to change.

“We have to get a handle on this problem now as metal prices are not going to decrease anytime soon.”

Volunteers from the Triax, ‘Step Ahead’ project, assisted in the Abbot’s Walk clear-up operation. Both community workers stated: “The Housing Executive should be praised for their swift response in each case.”

Commenting on the damage, Housing Executive District Manager Eddie Doherty said: “This incident is very distressing. We were holding this property specifically for a family while adaptation work is to be carried out to their home. We had the property shuttered and secured but on Monday night it was broken into and extensively damaged. Floor boards were lifted, electrical wiring pulled out, plumbing damaged and copper stripped. We estimate that the cost of repairing this property is in excess of £5,000.

“Thefts from Housing Executive homes are totally unacceptable and cause distress and inconvenience to many people. At a time when the Housing Executive is under significant financial pressure to deliver services to local residents, we are using funds to replace these that could otherwise be invested in improving or maintaining our homes across Northern Ireland.”

Welcoming the support of the Police Service NI and local communities “in trying to eliminate this problem”, Mr Doherty continued: “The Housing Executive totally condemns these criminal actions and have been proactive and successful in reducing these incidents. We will continue to work with local people and the PSNI in tackling this problem. We have established good relations with local communities throughout Northern Ireland and we would encourage residents to report any suspicious activity to their local Housing Executive office or the PSNI urgently..

Anyone with information regarding incidents of metal theft are asked to contact police on 0845 600 8000 or a member of your local Neighbourhood Team directly – details can be found on the PSNI website. Alternatively, to provide information anonymously contact Crimestoppers and speak to them on 0800 555 111.