According to the water company, thieves are stealing metals such as copper, lead and other non-ferrous metals from its sites to sell on to scrap dealers.

In response, Thames Water is using ‘SmartWater’, a chemically-coded water liquid, which invisibly tags its metals. As part of the system, once marked with the coded water any metal can be traced and detected using ultraviolet light.

The coded-water is also expected to help link the thief or receiver to the scene and Thames Water is working with local police and security specialists to catch criminals in the act.

Worst-hit areas in the company’s London and Thames Valley region include Aylesbury, Marlow, East Hyde and Bishop Stortford, where earthing cable, led roofs and galvanised metal grating have been ripped out of water and sewage works.

Thames Water director of asset management Bob Collington, said: “Metal theft at our sites costs our customers millions of pounds to put right. We are dealing with this by applying a forensic signature to all our equipment, so anything taken from one of our sites can be traced back. This makes it very difficult for criminals to sell on stolen items without detection.

“Any thieves who target our property face being sprayed with forensic liquid, meaning they will carry evidence of their crime on their skin and clothing wherever they go – it’s a huge risk, for very little gain.”

Carys Matthews

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