'Horrifying!' Record number of 'extremely dangerous' electricity thefts in West Midlands

People stole electricity on a record number of occasions in the West Midlands last year, figures show.

Electricity theft – which can be carried out by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter – has the potential to cause serious injury and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Campaigners say it is "horrifying" that others could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing fuel crisis.

Home Office figures show West Midlands Police received 787 reports of the "dishonest use of electricity" in the year to March – up from 319 in 2020-21, and the most since comparable records began in 2012-13.

And there was also a rise in Staffordshire with the region's police force receiving 74 reports of the "dishonest use of electricity" in the 12 months to March – up from 48 in 2020-21.

West Mercia Police received 14 reports, down from 24.

Police bosses in the region have warned people of the dangers of electricity theft.

A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “Tampering with electricity supplies or bypassing a meter is extremely dangerous and could cause serious injury or death.

"Many cases of electricity theft are linked to cannabis factories where offenders try to bypass meters to power the significant heat and light sources needed to cultivate plants.

"We’ve seen many cases of dodgy wiring leading to fires.

“We work with energy companies who will alert us to any suspicious activity at properties and will take action where appropriate.”

Across England and Wales, 3,600 such offences were recorded in 2021-22 – up 13 per cent on the year before and the most since comparable records began.

Across all police forces, 57 per cent of dishonest use of electricity cases were closed last year with no suspect identified.

In the West Midlands, 782 investigations were concluded in 2021-22, with 72 per cent resulting in no suspect being identified, 25 per cent abandoned due to evidential difficulties and two per cent with a charge or summons.

There were 80 investigations concluded in Staffordshire in 2021-22. In 46 cases, no suspect were identified, 17 cases were abandoned due to evidential difficulties and four ended with a charge or summons.

In West Mercia, 16 investigations were concluded in 2021-22, with six resulting in no suspect being identified, eight abandoned due to evidential difficulties and two with a charge or summons.

Stay Energy Safe, operated by Crimestoppers, says tampering with a meter can lead to wires overheating, the damage of property and potentially loss of life.

It also warns that the crime costs energy companies a minimum of £440 million each year – with these costs then passed on to customers.

An Ofgem spokesperson added that “under no circumstances should consumers attempt to connect electricity meters themselves”.

But the National Energy Action campaign group (NEA) said the cost-of-living crisis is forcing people into "increasingly desperate situations" such as avoiding energy use – including using candles instead of lights – or possibly even resorting to electricity theft.

Peter Smith, NEA director of policy and advocacy, said: "This is not only illegal but dangerous too, and it’s horrifying if the crisis is forcing households to try this to keep the lights on.

"And this is happening now, before winter and the cold weather hits."

When former Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a cost-of-living support package in May, the NEA said the predicted average annual energy bill from October could hit £2,800 – but this in now expected to reach £3,358.

Mr Smith added: "More support is desperately needed to close this gap and help the most vulnerable keep themselves warm and safe this winter.”

The Government said it is providing £37 billion to help households with the cost of living.

A spokesman added: “We are committed to cracking down on crime, including the criminal theft of electricity, which causes serious injury to people and damage to property."

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