Belfast Telegraph

Fury at theft of manhole covers

By John Mulgrew

A youth centre has said it cannot afford the £2,000 it will cost to replace more than 20 manhole covers stolen from its grounds last month.

Michael Willis, youth co-ordinator at the Sally Garden centre in Poleglass outside Belfast, said it has no money to replace the covers which were stolen for scrap metal.

He said Northern Ireland Water had told him it was not responsible for their replacement as the land was privately owned.

"We were told it's on private ground. We asked could we fill them in but were told no," he said.

"We've priced replacements at £2,200 - we can't do that at all. If we could weld it or do it ourselves with concrete, we would."

NI Water had covered the holes with wooden boards as a temporary solution but they had been removed by children only a few days later.

"You get kids running and playing on it. When it falls dark it is especially dangerous when there are 22 holes - we have to keep the kids out."

According to Mr Willis, those responsible for stealing the covers could have earned around £200 by selling them as scrap.

"We are land rich and money poor - for us to do this we would have to borrow money."

He said he now feels powerless and would consider leaving his job if a child was seriously injured as a result of falling down an uncovered hole.

"I would hate for something to happen," Mr Willis said.

"If it did happen I would consider leaving this job - I have a duty of care to children and I feel it is all out of my hands."

The fears among families using the centre reiterated Mr Willis' concerns, with one mother saying she was "terrified" her children could be injured.

NI Water said it had visited the centre following "reports of missing manholes in the area".

"While NIW initially put temporary covers in place in the interests of health and safety, on further inspection NI Water established that these manholes were part of a private drainage system and the responsibility for replacing them therefore lay with the owner of the premises.

"On initially being informed of the theft of the manhole covers NI Water, in the immediate interest of health and safety, put in place temporary covers."

NI Water added it met with representatives from the centre to explain and said while it sympathised with the group, the "issue of ownership is clear".

Crooks making a mint from stolen metal

It seems that in these increasingly austere times anything that isn't nailed down is up for grabs for the opportunistic thief trying to make a quick buck.

Between 2005 and 2009 thefts of all metals, including lead, copper and aluminium, rocketed in Northern Ireland.

In 2005 there were 52 reported cases with the number rising to a shocking high of in 2008, with the metal stolen valued at more than £300,000.

Aside from a much older issue of scrap metal such as steel and iron being taken from derelict buildings and yards, copper theft is one of the burgeoning problems across the province as its price soars.

In the past month, cases in Co Tyrone and Banbridge in which telephone and broadband cables were ripped from the ground have led BT to take a proactive approach to the problem.

It has said that, along with a newly-established metal theft taskforce, it intends to utilise a SmartWater system that would attach a "forensically traceable invisible liquid" to cables so that offenders run the risk of being tagged with the solution.

Another issue grabbing the attention of police across Northern Ireland is the theft of lead from roofs.

According to police figures, there were 158 reported lead thefts in Northern Ireland between April 2010 and March 2011.

Belfast Telegraph


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