'An epidemic of theft': Leeds man jailed over his role in conspiracy in which copper cable theft gang caused 45,000 homes to be left without power
Two men have been sentenced over their roles in a West Yorkshire organised crime gang which caused around 45,000 home to be left without power as they stripped electric power lines of copper wiring.
Shaun Townend and Antony Gray were part of the gang which put residents' lives at risk as they plundered 92,000 metres - around 57 miles - of hard drawn copper wire belonging to Northern Powergrid
The Castleford-based gang were responsible for over 250 separate incidents of theft in a conspiracy lasting 17 months.
The wiring was then sold to two crooked scrap metal dealers who arranged the onward sale of the high value metal.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported in December how six men were jailed at Leeds Crown Court after a painstaking investigation which cost close to half a million pounds.
Townend, 44, of Hyde Park Road, Leeds, was jailed for 28 months today (February 4) after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal.
He also pleaded guilty to an offence of dangerous driving in relation to a separate incident in which he tried to drive away from police officers in Wakefield city centre.
Gray, 39, of Moor View Close, Castleford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal and was given a 22-month sentence, suspended for 18 months.
He was also ordered to 200 hours of unpaid work and complete ten rehabilitation activity requirement days
The court heard the gang would usually strike in the middle of the night and target overhead power lines in rural areas.
Live power lines were cut with bolt croppers attached to extendable poles.
None of the gang members had any knowledge of working with power lines.
During the course of the offending 45,000 homes in Yorkshire and the north east were left without power
The offending had the potential to electrocute people and damage electrical devices within homes.
Members of the public who came across damaged power lines and those responsible for investigating the offences were also placed in danger.
The gang delivered over 20,000 kgs of copper wiring to corrupt scrap metal merchants John Crooks and Jonathan France and were paid around £70,000 in total.
France - who is already serving a ten-year prison sentence for fraud and other financial crimes worth £6m - went on to launder over half a million pounds through the bank account of a business associate.
At today's hearing, France was ordered to pay £6,034 under the Proceeds of Crime Act in relation to the offending.
The court heard he had benefited by £98,136 but had only the lower amount available to be seized.
Townend's involvement in the conspiracy ended when he was jailed for firearms offences.
His barrister, Richard Canning, said it was accepted that Townend must face a custodial sentence over the offending and did not seek to minimise his involvement.
Townend was also banned from driving for four years, three months.
The court heard Gray was involved in 49 of the thefts.
He has previous convictions for conspiracy to commit burglary, insurance fraud and animal cruelty.
Matthew Harding, for Gray, said his client had turned his life around and he had stopped offending.
Mr Harding said Gray now worked hard to provide for his family and his children would suffer if he was sent immediately to custody.
The barrister said: "Whatever Mr Gray has done, he is not a danger to the public."
Judge Andrew Stubbs QC said: "You can tell that to the electricity workers who were faced with live wires strewn across the road."
Sentencing the pair, Judge Stubbs said: "This was an epidemic of thefts."
“Given the level of offending and the geographical range of overhead power lines targeted, the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit investigated.
“The investigation was detailed and thorough and a lot of painstaking work went into bringing these people to justice.
"They now have time inside to consider the consequences of their actions.
“As well as being illegal, metal theft is dangerous with people potentially risking theirs and others' lives as well as causing temporary disruption to customers’ electricity supplies.
“I hope these sentences send out a message that it simply isn’t worth the risk.”
A spokeswoman for Northern Powergrid, the company responsible for the region’s electricity distribution network, added: “We take metal theft very seriously.
"It is incredibly dangerous for those who do it and to local communities as criminals leave behind live sections of damaged electricity cables and equipment which we have to repair to restore supplies.
“We’ve worked in partnership with the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Organised Crime unit to successfully bring this case to court and we welcome seeing these individuals being brought to justice.
"It sends a clear message that will seek to prosecute any criminals who tamper with our network and disrupt our customers’ electricity supplies.”