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BT goes after cable thieves in new scheme

Alex Scroxton

BT has responded to the surge in cable thefts across its network with the launch of a nationwide campaign to forensically tag malfeasants and bring them to justice.

Since scrap metal prices have risen through the recession, BT has seen a spate of thefts targeting its exchanges and infrastructure, many of them resulting in significant phone and Internet outages with a knock-on effect on the business community, costing it over £700m per annum.

According to stats garnered by BT, 2009 saw a 9% rise in deliberate attacks on its network.

The telco has teamed up with scientists at SmartWater, which provides forensic marking liquid solutions that are unique to a specific location. BT plans to use it to coat the outer shell and inner core of Openreach cable, along with other equipment.

This will mean that should any equipment be stolen, the police will be able to track any recovered material to the source of the crime.

BT will also be deploying trap devices that spray criminals attempting to target Openreach property with the same marking solution, which SmartWater claims remains on the skin for up to 60 days.

"Anyone arrested for metal theft will be examined for traces of SmartWater," said detective inspector Robin Conway of the British Transport Police. "A search will be made of the person's house and any property, including vehicles, with traces of SmartWater on them, is likely to be seized by police."

"Cable theft affects not only us as a business, but millions who rely on access to phones and broadband across the UK, and with the help of this technology we're fighting back," said Openreach security head Bernie Auguste.

Alongside BTP, BT will also be working with scrap metal dealers to help legitimate resellers identify stolen material and cut the thieves' supply chain.


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