Police have reported a surge in the number of people across West Yorkshire who are being caught stealing electricity.
Over the course of the past five years, the number of offences has doubled – a trend that officers have attributed to the economic downturn.
Illegal access of the electricity network is also a common tactic among criminals who have set up cannabis factories in residential areas.
Figures made available following a Freedom of Information request found that there were 194 incidents of electricity theft in 2014 and that 54 offences had been recorded in the first two months of this year.
A West Yorkshire Police report said: “Similar increases are being seen across the country and can in part be attributed to the current financial climate, however it is not clear if this is the full picture.
“Improvements in data integrity may also have led to abstraction of electricity being recorded as part of cannabis production incidents whereas in the past this may not have been the case.”
The rise in offences has caused consternation among energy companies who are concerned that criminals are endangering the general public and adding around £20 to every customer’s bill.
Mark Andrews, head of revenue protection for British Gas, said: “Energy theft poses a major safety risk to the public. Stealing gas and electricity illegally is extremely dangerous.
“It’s potentially a ticking time-bomb. Tampering with meters, wires and pipes can cause electric shocks or even major gas explosions.”
Abstracting electricity is a theft offence that can be punished with a community order, fine or, in the more serious cases, a custodial sentence. Lester Morrill’s Leeds-based solicitors have a wealth of experience representing those facing theft offences and can advise clients on the options available. For more advice on how our criminal team can assist you, please contact us.