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Saturday 1 October 2016

Foreign copper gang who sparked €10m blaze 'put lives at risk' during theft

ESB workers at the Bluebell site inspect the damage caused by the massive blaze on Sunday night
ESB workers at the Bluebell site inspect the damage caused by the massive blaze on Sunday night

An organised crime gang of Romanian nationals are the chief suspects in the theft of copper wire from an ESB substation that sparked a massive fire causing €10m worth of damage.

Sources said the gang are believed to be highly organised and have been operating in Ireland for two years.

It is understood that the copper they steal is smuggled back to their home country or sold on the black market here.

The ESB said in a statement that it did not know the exact value of the damage caused in the incident that left 120,000 customers without power.

However, it is estimated to be around €10m.

The fire broke out at the Bluebell substation on Sunday when thieves tried to steal the copper.

ESB head of distribution Senan Colleran said the thieves "put people's lives at risk".

Speaking on Today FM's The Last Word, Mr Colleran said Tallaght Hospital lost its power supply during the blaze.

"Not only did they put their own lives at risk, they put other people's lives at risk too," he said.

"We did everything possible. We do operate a smart network which meant we could distribute power to those who had lost it."

Mr Colleran said that to date one person has been killed and a number of people have suffered serious burns as a result of copper stripping.

Valuable

"These people took their lives into their own hands in trying to steal copper from control cables and inadvertently started a fire," he said.

"Copper is a scarce commodity worldwide and it is very valuable.

"They sell it on to the metal traders. I'm not sure where it ends up, but it's sold on into the trade."

The criminals involved in the thefts that led to the weekend fire were targeted by the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau last year after the Government held a special National Emergency Coordination meeting to discuss the rise in thefts of ESB power lines.

Since 2012, more than 150km of copper valued at €3m has been stolen. ESB Networks has spent €28m replacing it.

The public have been urged to call the emergency services if they see people either climbing ESB poles or using heavy machinery to reach cables at unusual hours.

Separately, two Romanian brothers, Danie and Sorin Geageac, who are aged in their 20s, were jailed last month for three years each after being convicted at Naas Circuit Court of theft, fraud and criminal damage.

They operated by climbing electrical poles in the middle of isolated bogs and removing the copper wire.

They were arrested in Rathdangan, Co Kildare, last August.

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