Two men jailed for BT cable theft - Hertfordshire

06/07/2012

BT cable thieves tried to escape the police by running across six lanes of the M25 near Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.

Lance Portfleet, 43, and Kieron Munford, 23, fled across a field, down an embankment and dodged the traffic in an attempt to get away.

But Munford, who thought he had escaped and was texting his girlfriend, gave himself up when police arrived on the Barnet side of the motorway. Portfleet was caught by a police dog, which bit him, after the police helicopter was involved in the search, St Albans Crown Court heard on Thursday, 05 July 2012.

Geoffrey Porter, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said at around 9pm on 22 September last year a woman police officer saw a suspicious van on Barnet Road, near the motorway.

Initially the officer thought the men were working legitimately. Their lorry had the livery of a firm that carries out cable work, cones had been set on the road, there were generators and pulley equipment and the men were in High Visibility Jackets. In fact fake livery had been attached to the lorry and it was registered with a false name and address.

The officer called off her colleagues who were racing to the scene, but when the three men saw her they fled and she called for reinforcements.

The men ran through fields, down the motorway embankment and across the lanes of traffic.

Munford stopped in a field and thought he had escaped. He sent two text messages to his girlfriend.

The men had lifted off a manhole cover to remove 160 metres of cable.

Mr Porter said: "The value of the copper cable stolen was £3,500. To replace it cost £10,000.

"Fortunately there was no disruption to telephone lines and this cable was back up cable for if there was a break up in service elsewhere, though this was more by luck than judgement."

In the past 2-years there have been 420 offences of cable theft in Hertfordshire alone. Nationally 85,000 customers had been left without telephone services after cable theft last year.

Portfleet of Lucas Road, Sudbury, Suffolk, and Munford, of Rede Way, Great Cornard, Sudbury were convicted of theft.

Edward McKiernan, defending Munford said he had been recruited by Portfleet, who had worked for him for 5-years, and was paying him £60 a day for the job.

"He did not organise anything and had nothing to do with the planning," he said.

Portfleet was said to have been recruited himself "in a subordinate role to provide manual assistance." He had been in a battle to gain custody of his children and in Apirl had slashed his arms, taken an overdose of anti-depressants and had tried to hang himself.

A third man who was arrested is wanted by the police, having not answered to bail.

Judge Stephen Gullick said: "Fortunately for you the cable you took was not directly connected to the telephone lines. It was a back up cable if the main cable failed. I wish to make it clear that had you disrupted the telephone lines to houses and the adjacent hospital, I would have sentenced you both to prison for 5-years. Fortunately there was no serious disruption."

He told them: "The theft of telephone cable causes distress and enormous disruption. I do not regard you as the organisers. There were clearly others further up the chain."

Portfleet was jailed for 12-months, and Munford for 9-months.

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