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Eye in the sky to nab thieves; Metal yobs targeted.

Byline: ALASTAIR CRAIG

METAL thieves will be targeted from the air during the festive period with patrols by police helicopters.

Officers from the North East Air Support Unit are lending a hand in the fight against cable thefts from the Metro.

A Northumbria Police helicopter will be flying over the lines using infra-red detection equipment in order to spot intruders.

Insp Les Pattison, said: "The theft of cable from the Metro system, as well as being expensive to replace, causes great inconvenience to the public.

"We have increased patrols in order to deter criminals from entering the railway lines and the addition of the helicopter will be of great assistance in locating and subsequently catching offenders."

Officers are working with Nexus and British Transport Police to combat metal being stolen over Christmas and New Year.

Director of rail and infrastructure for Nexus, Ken Mackay, said: "We welcome the support of the Northumbria Force helicopter in the fight against cable theft. Patrols on the system have been already stepped up, especially during the night, and having air support will make it even tougher for the thieves."

Last month one of the country's most senior police officers named the North East as the "epicentre" for metal thefts. The deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police, Paul Crowther, told Parliament more needs to be done to reduce thefts in the region.

He told the Commons transport select committee such was the extent of the problem it was now listed as an organised crime priority.

He said: "The North East seems to be the epicentre of metal thefts as far as the railways are concerned. At the moment the risk to reward balance is heavily in favour of the criminal, the average fine dished out in 2010 was is around pounds 379.

"With scrap trading at pounds 5,000 a tonne we can see that the system is skewed towards those who might be inclined towards criminality."

Mr Crowther was speaking after two attacks were made on the Metro system which brought services to a standstill. Network Rail staff worked through the night last month to replace stolen overhead equipment at South Hylton, while Metro workers had to replace stolen communications cables from Howdon.

There have been 3,376 incidents of metal theft in the region this year.

David Wood, chairman of the region's Integrated Transport Authority, said: "There seems little to stop criminals targeting cables, but I think the focus has to be on the fence as it only a minority of scrap metal dealers who allow this trade to happen."

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OUT TO GET THEM Metro lines will be patrolled from the skies to catch scrap metal thieves
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 16, 2011
Words:448
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