OPERATIONS are being launched across Essex to target metal thieves who are making life a misery for residents.

Det Chief Insp Mark Wheeler has spoken out following a massive increase in the theft of lead, copper and other valuable sheet metals and cables which are delaying trains, damaging buildings and leading to the breakdown of telecommunication systems.

He said: “Metal theft is a serious and growing national problem and Essex has been badly affected as incidents have increased over the past few years.

“To date we have received 1,252 reports of metal theft across the county since the start of 2011.

"Stolen items range from road signs to street manhole covers, lead from the roofs of churches, businesses and private homes and from BT cable to power and signal cables from beside railway lines through Essex.

"A number of thefts of trackside cables have caused severe disruption on the main London to Colchester railway line and other lines have also been affected.

"Cables have also been stolen from electricity sub stations and even from overhead pylons, some carrying 400,000 volts.

"We are urging the public to keep watch for suspicious activity around buildings, railways and in remote areas where underground communication cables might run.”

Anyone who witnesses any metal thefts is asked to call 999 immediately and try to get the license plates of any vehicles involved.