Media Release: BT launches campaign against cable theft in Scotland

BT today launched a new weapon in a major new initiative against cable thieves in Scotland.

The communications company has begun deploying ‘SmartWater’, a forensically-coded invisible paint that ‘tags’ metal thieves and protects the telecoms network in Scotland and across the UK.

Says a spokesperson: “Driven by the recent surge in scrap copper prices, metal theft is a growing problem for communities across the country, as thieves target the copper contained in the local telecoms network, isolating vulnerable people and in some cases limiting access to emergency services.

“Last year saw an increase of nine per cent in incidents of deliberate attacks on the BT network. Such attacks cost BT millions of pounds each year.  

“BT’s Metal Theft Taskforce [MTT] is stepping up its fight back with the roll-out of innovative technology developed by scientists at British company SmartWater.

“The partnership operation will be supported by British Transport Police (BTP) and uses cutting-edge forensic marking and GPS tracking technologies. The aims of this will be to not only deter thefts, but to also capture and convict persistent offenders.”

Bernie Auguste, head of security for BT’s local network business Openreach, said: “Any criminal who targets the BT network in Scotland now  risks being invisibly ‘tagged’ with SmartWater, meaning that the police can trace them, and any stolen cable or equipment, back to the scene of the crime.

“Cable theft affects not only us as a business, it affects everyone who relies on access to phones and broadband. With the help of this technology and other initiatives we’re fighting back.

“SmartWater is a highly-sophisticated forensic marking liquid that is unique to a particular location. It will be used to mark the outer shell and inner core of Openreach cable, along with tools and other equipment.

“This will allow police to irrefutably identify where any stolen items have come from.

“SmartWater trap devices will also be deployed in hot spot areas to capture criminals red-handed. Any thieves who target Openreach property face being sprayed with the liquid, meaning they will carry evidence of their crime on their skin and clothing wherever they go.”

Detective Inspector Robin Conway, from British Transport Police, said: “Cable and metal theft is high on BTP’s agenda due to the disruption and economic effect it has on businesses and communities. Anyone arrested for metal theft will be examined for traces of SmartWater.

“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. Scrap metal dealers will also be visited regularly to ensure they are assisting British Transport Police in identifying criminals attempting to sell stolen metal.”

In many parts of the UK, police officers routinely check suspects for the presence of SmartWater, heightening the chances of arrest and prosecution for thieves.

Now, to further close the net on metal thieves, teams from SmartWater, BT Security and British Transport Police officers are working with scrap merchants to check for traces of the forensic solution.

This will directly target the thieves’ supply chain making it more and more difficult to sell on stolen goods without detection.

The use of this technology by Openreach in North London is already achieving results by reducing the number of network attacks, as would-be thieves are discouraged from entering areas where they may be sprayed with the solution, or taking equipment which has been coated.

Phil Cleary, chief executive of SmartWater, said: “The most important part of securing a conviction for metal theft is establishing a forensic link between the stolen material, the criminals and the scene of the crime. SmartWater does just that, by invisibly tagging cables, equipment and offenders, and allowing Police to make criminals more accountable for their actions.”

In addition to rolling out SmartWater in Scotland, Openreach is stepping up mobile patrolling of network sites, introducing new locks for manholes, and working closely with local police forces on dedicated ‘sting’ operations to target metal thieves. Last year, BT worked with the police to achieve more than 200 arrests.

Bernie Auguste added: “The support of the public is essential and we are working closely with local communities to engage their help. Members of the public can help by being our eyes and ears and reporting anything suspicious to police.”

Enquiries about this news release should be made to Mitch Reid or Anna Steven at the BT Scotland Press Office on 0800 085 0660. All news releases can be accessed at our web site:

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Notes to editors:

Members of the public wishing to report suspicious activity should contact 999.

Activity to look out for includes:

  • Individuals accessing the telecom network who are not wearing the appropriate corporate clothing.
  • Vehicles of legitimate engineers working within the telecom network will display Openreach branding. Look out for vehicles parked adjacent to or over telecom access points which are not displaying Openreach branding, or signage stating they are working on behalf of Openreach.
  • If safe to do so, get descriptions of anybody acting suspiciously around a telecom access point. Note their approx height, age and how they are dressed. For suspicious vehicles, note the registration number, make, model and colour.

About Openreach

Openreach is responsible for the nationwide local BT network which connects homes and businesses across Britain to communications providers’ networks.  Openreach provides communications providers with services and products associated with that network.

About BT

BT is one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions and services operating in more than 170 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to our customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband and internet products and services and converged fixed/mobile products and services. BT consists principally of four lines of business: BT Global Services, Openreach, BT Retail and BT Wholesale.

In the year ended 31 March 2010, BT Group’s revenue was £20,911 million.

British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York.

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