At least ten gangs who are stripping copper from empty houses are operating in the county, gardaí have said.
Criminals disguised as contractors wearing hard hats and high-visibility vests are targeting vacant houses across Donegal and selling the copper across the border.
Gardaí have reported an increase in such thefts in the first two months of the year and have warned owners of vacant homes to be vigilant. They have warned that ‘For Sale’ signs outside homes can draw attention to property and thieves have actually attended viewings of houses before returning to the property to remove the copper piping.
An increase in the price of commodities such as copper has led to a rise in thefts of the metal in recent years and in Donegal criminals have stolen telephone lines and water tanks.
Letterkenny Garda Superintendent Vincent O’Brien said there has been a huge increase in break-ins to houses and apartments which have been left vacant due to the economic climate. Speaking at this week’s February meeting of the Letterkenny Joint Policing Committee, Supt. O’Brien said the removal of copper pipes has caused substantial water damage to properties targeted by criminals.
He called on owners of vacant properties to secure them and turn off the water. He said the number of gangs involved is in double figures. “It is a very lucrative business and the vast majority of this metal is going across the border.” He asked that the government look at introducing regulation for the sale of scrap metal. “At the moment you don’t have to be registered to be a scrap metal dealer. We have no regulation regarding scrap metal in this country and it is something that we need to look at.”
Supt. O’Brien said provisional figures showed the number of burglaries in the Letterkenny district has increased from 45 to 47 in the first two months of this year compared to the same period last year. He said burglaries are more targeted and have been carried out in housing estates in the Letterkenny area.
He urged householders to ensure doors and windows are locked because entry had not been forced in many of the thefts.
“Even when you are popping down to the shops for ten minutes during the day, make sure all doors and windows are locked.”
Meanwhile the Letterkenny Chamber and the Letterkenny Joint Policing Committee and the Joint Policing Committee are hosting a Business Security Awareness Information night which will advise businesses on practices and policies to protect themselves against the threat of crime. The event will be held at the Letterkenny Public Services on Monday March 12th at 7pm.