London crime: OPP probes thefts of backup batteries and copper wire

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Electrical stations, parks, even graves.

Copper thieves have gone after all kinds of targets in Southwestern Ontario, sometimes risking their lives in search of scrap metal to sell.

Now, add to that list the backup batteries that keep cellular towers working and your calls coming through.

Telecom towers have been targeted in a rash of break-ins and thefts in Middlesex, Oxford and Brant counties.

Ontario Provincial Police are investigating four incidents involving the thefts of backup batteries and copper wire that appear to have taken place between Thursday and Sunday.

Thieves salvage the copper and other components in the batteries and wiring, said OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor.

And, in a twist that might surprise some, the acid in the batteries also has an attraction. It can be used in drug production, Rektor noted.

For the public, such theft is worrying because the backup batteries ensure cellular systems keep working during major storms that cause power failures.

“People’s safety depends on the cellphones working, so we can’t take any chances,” said Rektor.

But such thievery is especially dangerous for the criminals, who face a high risk of electrocution.

Copper is an especially juicy target for thieves, since it finds a ready market in all kinds of industries, including for electronics.

Seven years ago, a man was electrocuted trying to strip copper wire from a southeast London power station. It was one of many metal ripoffs in the region that have even descended as low as stealing bronze vases from cemetery monuments.

With the explosive growth of digital technology, cell towers have mushroomed across built-up areas and rural areas of Canada.

Some are located atop buildings, others rising from the ground at stand-alone sites, with dozens in the immediate London area.

Police are asking metal recyclers and electrical disposal businesses to be vigilant and alert authorities if they spot anything suspicious.

They’re also also asking citizens who may have seen any suspicious activity around the four tower sites to contact them or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or at


Last Thursday:

About 2 p.m., alarm goes off at Bell Canada cell phone tower on Curry Road in South-West Oxford Township. Due to a technical problem, the company didn’t detect the alarm until four hours later. Thieves removed a fence lock, pried opened the main building door and stole 16 back-up power batteries, each valued at $10,000. Bell repaired and secure the site


— Staff from Rogers Communications, doing routine maintenance, discover a break-in at a cell phone tower on Clarke Road southwest of Woodstock near the Hwy 401. Thieves broke two locks on the fenced compound, forced open the door to the building at the base of the tower and stole nine backup batteries, the OPP said. There’d been an earlier warning, because an alarm was triggered at that tower last Thursday about 3 p.m., police noted. Rogers repaired the damage and secured the site.

— Brant OPP investigated a break-in at a Global TV communications tower at 475 Ayr Road. Police said the thieves cut through a chain-link fence, stealing 15 metres of copper wire. Police say the theft took place between Friday and Monday

— Middlesex OPP responded to a report of a break-in at telecom tower on Adelaide Street North in Middlesex Centre. The thieves cut through a fence a stole 16 12-volt batteries used for back-up power, police said.

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