Six men whose attacks on railway and communications cable across Hertfordshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Buckingham and London cost almost £715,000 have been jailed.
Christopher Cruz (33) of Mellow Purgess Close, Kris Kreuder (36) of Elizabeth Way, Shaun Nembhard (44) of Coopersales, John Michael Newton (36) of Newburyside - all Basildon, Essex – and Bill Lee, (60) who is already serving a jail sentence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal cable from the railway network.
Simon Scott (45) of no fixed abode but from Leeds, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal railway cable.
The court heard how the organised gang carried out 47 attacks at various times of the day between 1 May and 30 August 2011, stealing railway cable and BT communication cabling. The thieves cost Network Rail and BT almost £715,000 to replace and repair the cables as well as fines incurred to train operators as a result of delays, disruptions and cancellations caused.
Officers were first alerted to the gang in May 2011, when Network Rail reported 400 metres of cable had been cut and stolen from the line in Chelmsford.
A number of other incidents across the railway in the surrounding counties prompted a major investigation by specialised BTP metal theft officers, who began patrolling the lines overnight, using both covert and overt tactics to track the thieves’ movements.
On Tuesday, 30 August 2011, as part of a pre-planned operation, officers arrested three men close to Maldon Road, Margaretting, Essex, in possession of a large amount of BT cable. The three men transpired to be Cruz, Newton and Lee. They were all arrested on suspicion of theft and their mobile phones were seized for evidence.
These arrests, together with a detailed analysis and examination of their mobile phones, linked the three other men to the crimes. Using automatic number plate recognition technology, their vehicles, spotted at the site of a number of theft thefts, also linked them to the thefts. All six men pleaded guilty to their offences at Blackfriars Crown Court on Wednesday, 2 January.
Dave Ward, Network Rail route managing director for the South East, said: “These sentences send a strong message to anyone considering stealing cable from the railway. We cannot emphasise just how serious these crimes are. Cable thieves deny passengers the service they rightly expect and, through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services. We are doing everything we can to protect the railway and will continue to work closely with the British Transport Police and other organisations to do everything in our power to deter thieves and bring those who attack our network to justice.”
Sergeant Joe McClenaghan, the investigating officer from BTP, said: “These sentences show that it is simply not worth considering stealing cable from the rail network. Using intelligence gathered over a number of months, our officers were able to track the gang’s every movement and arrest them in the act. We will continue to use a number of tactics to crack down on this type of crime, which is anything but victim-less, and we will do everything in our power to bring them to justice.
Simon Davies, General Manager for cable and payphone crime in BT, said: “This gang had complete disregard for the disruption caused to other peoples’ lives by their criminal activities, and it’s pleasing to see the court dealing with them in this way. BT is constantly collaborating with police to help bring cable thieves to justice and this is a good example of how effective that is.”