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Manhole covers and gully grates vanish in the night.

30th November 2007

They strike in the dead of night and at dawn the population rises to a sinister peril.

It started in Aberdeen and Gloucester and then moved on to London, but these days there is no escape anywhere from the municipal castings thief.

When Newham in East London was targeted they stole nearly 200 grates and covers in just few weeks. In fact, thieves made off with 93 covers in one week in Newham alone.

But our major cities are not the only victims. This mysterious and dangerous activity happens throughout Europe and the world. Bemused council officials in most of the world's cities have been trying to track down the culprits and cover the exposed holes before someone else dies as a result of a serious accident.

Ironically, as a very large proportion of the world's municipal castings originate from Asia, the two top international hotspots for this type of crime are India and China, where there have also been the most deaths.

According to 'The Guardian' many British cities have asked local residents to keep a close eye on the covers and grates outside their properties and to watch out for suspicious vehicles. Hotline numbers have been issued in many London Boroughs. One Newham councillor told the newspaper that they were on the trail of a gang and would employ every method at their disposal to track them, including CCTV and increased patrols by their community constabulary. He said "The thieves are causing a real danger to the public".

The motive for the thefts is, of course, financial. The world price of steel and iron has more than doubled in each of the last few years. Scrap metal is almost as valuable as high grade metal and is eagerly sought after. The 130 known covers stolen from Aberdeen back in March 2004 were valued at the time at £13,000. There have been countless thefts since.

Source: The Guardian.

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