Brazen construction thieves ‘risking their lives’

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Thieves who break into Canterbury building sites risk their lives for as little as a few hundred dollars worth of scrap metal.

Construction sites often contain high-value salable items, such as machinery, building materials, fuel, and tools.

Thieves recently rammed into a major building site in Canterbury to steal $200 worth of copper from a heating unit, while causing damage estimated at $250,000.

The site manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, said someone “got a grinder, worked their way up to the main plant – heating and cooling and basically had tried to cut a whole bunch of copper. That’s a quarter of a million dollars down the drain.”

The risk/reward equation was crazy, he says.

“All the machines are on, they are running.

“I’m surprised we didn’t arrive and didn’t find a body there. Where they cut it, there’s obviously coolant and bits in the machinery.

“Where he cut the copper, the things in it are like acid. If he gets hit by that, it’ll burn you to the bone. So these guys are actually risking their lives for probably two hundred copper scrap dollars. That’s crazy.”

Daniel Bennett of Selwyn-based Precision Builders said he had been building in the neighborhood for eight years and his only theft was around a meter of mains power cable, removed for copper.

“We are very vigilant; we keep our two vans filled with anything of value and we only leave things in the house once it is locked.”

Bennett had appliances delivered to his home and only brought appliances on site once a kitchen was installed and an electrician was on the job.

“The plumbing supplies show up the day the plumbers are there; to me, that’s just common sense,” he said.

Bennett was building 15 houses a year and he recognized that it was more difficult to manage the material once you did higher volumes.

“A lot of people don’t have the infrastructure, so they power everything on site two or three weeks before it’s needed, which just opens up opportunities to be had.”

Glen Taylor, owner of security system rental company ATF Vision, said they typically receive a peak in phone calls from builders on Monday mornings.

“We used to see petty thefts but now it’s big dollar stuff; hot water balloons and in one case a builder had 44 sheets of cardboard Gib stolen, we did removing gutters from buildings… It’s really bad.”

Thefts were happening everywhere, he said.

“We are seeing market triggers; we could see fuel going up and literally overnight, theft going up.

“Especially with fuel prices, you’ll see desperate entrepreneurs who can’t afford fuel.

“So what do they do? They go down to the local construction site and just siphon it off – done.”

Carl Taylor, Carl Taylor Homes, said he had faced theft since he built his first standard home nearly 20 years ago.

“I remember the agent calling me one day, before the open house, and he was like, ‘Hey Carl, what happened to your mat?’

Only the underlay was left behind, Taylor said.

“When we build a house, we factor in about two to three thousand dollars worth of equipment to get whipped.

“You have to have a contingency percentage in there – and that tends to go up every year. That’s also for things like inflation, but that contingency number is pretty high now,” he said. .

District Police Chief Inspector Peter Cooper said the National Police have been noticing an increase in burglaries at construction sites in recent months.

-By Tim Fulton

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