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Power Crime United Kingdom Idle

Pirate Electrician Supplied Power To 1,500 Homes 373

Posted by samzenpus
from the scuttle-the-meter dept.
fridaynightsmoke writes "A former electrical engineer for utility EDF has been prosecuted for illegally supplying power to some 1,500 homes in north London. Derek Brown, 45, was arrested in 2008 after being seen tampering with the electric grid in a manhole. He specialized in connecting separate supplies to houses that were split into apartments. One landlord involved, Haresh Parmar, was jailed for 9 months for stealing £30,000 worth of electricity for 22 of his apartments. Brown's assets will be seized and he has been sentenced to 8 months suspended, and 150 hours community service."

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Pirate Electrician Supplied Power To 1,500 Homes

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  • Oh my-- (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:07AM (#33879744)

    What a shocking development

  • freedom (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dionysus (12737) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:07AM (#33879748) Homepage

    Electricity wants to be free!

    • Re:freedom (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:44AM (#33879912)

      No, electricity wants to be *grounded*.

  • British Power Supply (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cylix (55374) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:15AM (#33879780) Homepage Journal

    Can someone explain how the mains circuit is supplied.

    TFA was so light on details its very difficult to understand what he did. I'm not sure how you can actually illegally tap into the power grid without someone noticing. Here an inspector literally reads the meter or in some cases a digital meter supplies information automatically. In fact, my gas is apparently wireless and merely requires someone to drive by to meter the usage. It would seem like something that would be very difficult to subvert in a suburban environment.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mysidia (191772)

      TFA was so light on details its very difficult to understand what he did. I'm not sure how you can actually illegally tap into the power grid without someone noticing.

      We're reading about it, and the article wasn't written by the person, so obviously someone noticed (even though they were apparently slow about it... perhaps they wanted to let the charges rack up, so they could make an example of the person)

    • by davester666 (731373) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:42AM (#33879906) Journal

      Um, he can do all kinds of things.

      Just tap into power and run it to a new building. Meter reader isn't expecting to go to the building to read the meter, so nothing is missed.

      Or run electricity into building, through a box that looks like a meter, only gives out a faulty reading.

      As for wireless and/or internet-connected meters, it wouldn't surprise me if the company isn't particularly on the clue train and may not, say, have a very good system in place for authenticating the data from the device [so you could replicate the signal and put out whatever reading you want]. However, the company probably does require a semi-regular physical meter reading, to check that the physical meter has the same reading as the broadcast one, and the system doesn't appear to be tampered with].

      Electricity may be more complicated to wire up correctly to bypass the meter [so x% goes through the meter and y% goes around the meter], but gas and water are really straightforward to do the plumbing and to get a reasonable percentage through the meter, and people have been really imaginative in disguising/hiding the modifications.

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:55AM (#33880160)

        Or run electricity into building, through a box that looks like a meter, only gives out a faulty reading.

        The article talks about buildings that are split into apartments. In the UK sometimes the landlord pays the electric company, and then has private meters for each apartment - all going through the main meter. (This is much less common than it was because there are strict limits on markup and additional charges. Most new flats now have electric company meters). The safest way to fiddle the bill would be to have one or two flats going through the main meter and the rest using an illegal collection. The landlord of course collects money from all the tenants!

    • by Malc (1751)

      Where's here? Everywhere I've lived, it's possible to hook up to the grid illicitly. For example, when I lived in Canada, a lot of the pot grow houses were discovered by unusually high power consumption in an area. Clearly in N. America, it can be possible to get steal electricity too.

    • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:53AM (#33879944)
      There are three ways to steal power. The easy way, the hard way, and the insane way.
      - The easy way: Vamp the cables before they go into the meter. Carefully poke needles into them, solder cable to the needles. Careful not to draw too much current, or they get hot - but British power is 230V, so a little current goes a long way. There is a risk of a meter reader noticing, but if you have a remotely-monitored smart-meter then this is an option. Popular with intensive pot-growers - not to avoid the fee, but because a house that suddenly spikes by several kilowatts and stays there will raise a suspicion notice at the utility, and may result in police going around to see if someone is operating hundreds of day-bulbs.

      - The hard way: Find a cable someone else has paid for and splice in. Good targets are outbuildings. If your garage is next to theirs, a little breaking-and-entering is all you need.

      - The insane way: Tap into the actual mains distribution cables under the roads or on utility poles. I think this is what he was doing. High effort, high risk of detection, high risk of electrocution. Only a real electrician could do this, like the person of the article. Allows access to great amounts of power, for running large buildings.

      • by David Off (101038) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:31AM (#33880084) Homepage

        Fourth way, if you live near high voltage cables run cables beneath to tap of electricity by induction. People have been prosecuted in the UK for doing this.

        The electric company meters the supply upstream of the domestic supplies so they have an idea if someone is drawing electricity illegally as all the individual readings should add up to the global reading minus losses.

        • by Qubit (100461) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:41AM (#33880112) Homepage Journal

          if you live near high voltage cables run cables beneath to tap of electricity by induction. People have been prosecuted in the UK for doing this.

          How in the world do you prosecute someone for using an induction loop?

          I mean, sure, you could prosecute them for trespass or something if you move your stuff onto their property/airspace, but if it's all on your own land, it's just EM waves flowing through the air. If the land owner has to put up with the radiation they didn't ask for, who is to say that they can't use it to induce a current?

          Anyhow, I figure you might be trollin' seeing as how you'd have to get really close to get any measurable power via induction, but it is an interesting question in any case...

          • by turing_m (1030530) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @04:05AM (#33880210)

            How in the world do you prosecute someone for using an induction loop?

            It is theft of power. If it wasn't able to be prosecuted, you'd have people buying up tracts of land under high tension power lines and erecting commercial or industrial scale induction loops. The government/courts would then say to themselves - we either side with modern civilization as we know it, or a pack of free-loading bullshit artists. Hmmm, tough choice.

            • by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @06:17AM (#33880692)

              It is theft of power. If it wasn't able to be prosecuted, you'd have people buying up tracts of land under high tension power lines and erecting commercial or industrial scale induction loops. The government/courts would then say to themselves - we either side with modern civilization as we know it, or a pack of free-loading bullshit artists. Hmmm, tough choice.

              You've been modded funny, but there are actually a few examples where bullshit artists have taken the system to court and lost precisely because if they were to win, the resulting mess would be far more than any sane government would want to contemplate. IANAL, but AFAICT most judges take a fairly dim view of people trying to twist an interpretation of the law in a fashion that would be of great detriment to society.

              • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @06:56AM (#33880844)

                You can even see this in judgements we would now disagree with.

                The famous "end of slavery" judgement in England is very narrowly written, it holds that slavery is a repugnant institution, and so could only exist in England if it was the law, then it says the law doesn't provide for slavery in England, and so the plaintiff, who is in England, is not a slave and may go free.

                But it carefully says nothing about slavery outside England. There were in practice essentially no slaves in England, which is why this chap (brought there from a colony and unwilling to return) was chosen as a test case. Everything was paid for by anti-slavery advocates. So the intention was to secure a judgement that slavery as a whole was illegal, and the judge did not do that. He didn't want to cause chaos by spontaneously freeing huge numbers of slaves.

                Campaigners still called this an end to slavery, but England continued to operate slave ships, and to control colonies whose commercial viability depended on slavery. The only thing that had changed was a man who found himself in England could be sure he wasn't a slave - though as a servant he might be little better off. It would take many more years before English rulers instructed their colonies to cease buying new slaves and grant their existing slaves freedom.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by zippthorne (748122)

              Conversely, the power company ought to control their emissions. If they're leaking enough power onto a person's property to be usefully collected, they should compensate the property owner for the EM pollution.

              • by tibit (1762298) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:07AM (#33881554)

                Remember that induction reciprocates. If you have a transformer without a secondary winding, or with a mild bulk resistor in the EM field -- like happens around high voltage AC transmission lines, then the transformer runs at some nominal loss that you can't do much about. As soon as you add a secondary winding and load it, the primary winding current increases! So the "leakage" by itself doesn't mean that they are losing as much power as they would if you had an actual secondary winding there, with a load. Ground, even wet ground, and buildings, even with metal in them, are very poor transformer secondaries. Something purpose-designed -- doesn't have to be.

          • by dbIII (701233)
            I think it comes under sabotage since it mucks up the power factor, but I'm thinking it would have to be a lot of cable very close to the high voltage lines unless you just want to run one or two flouro tubes and have something else to start them.
          • by Barefoot Monkey (1657313) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @04:15AM (#33880248)

            if you live near high voltage cables run cables beneath to tap of electricity by induction. People have been prosecuted in the UK for doing this.

            How in the world do you prosecute someone for using an induction loop?

            I mean, sure, you could prosecute them for trespass or something if you move your stuff onto their property/airspace, but if it's all on your own land, it's just EM waves flowing through the air. If the land owner has to put up with the radiation they didn't ask for, who is to say that they can't use it to induce a current?

            Anyhow, I figure you might be trollin' seeing as how you'd have to get really close to get any measurable power via induction, but it is an interesting question in any case...

            Those are good questions. Firstly, when you draw power using induction you are actually creating a load on the power supply. It's more-or-less the same as if you had spliced into the cable, but easier to hide and less likely to kill you. Secondly, building and using a coil for this purpose is a very deliberate theft of service with physical evidence (a coil, and usually a cable running to the thief's house). So yes, you can definately prosecute for this, even if there was no tresspassing.

            As for distance, if you have a sufficiently large coil on the ground under powerlines then that is close enough to draw power.

            This is actually a very common method to defraud electricity providers, particularly in informal settlements (squatter camps) where coils are easy to conceal.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jandersen (462034)

            How in the world do you prosecute someone for using an induction loop?

            What do you mean "how"? "How can you succesfully prosecute a case like that": As any other case, collect evidence that there was an intent to do something naughty and take it from there; shouldn't be too hard - big inductors and appliances using the power generated is all that is needed. If you mean "Why is this even reasonable?", then consider that energy is never destroyed or created. To demonstrate the effect of tapping energy by induction, try to measure the power consumption on the input side of a tran

        • by Chrisq (894406)

          Fourth way, if you live near high voltage cables run cables beneath to tap of electricity by induction. People have been prosecuted in the UK for doing this.

          Citation needed. I am sure that the loss would be insignificant compared to the total power in HV transmission lines.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by abigsmurf (919188)
            They almost certainly check how the power gets drained between certain stretches of cabling for maintenance purposes. If, for example, they notice a stretch of cable is losing 2KW of power more than they'd expect it could indicate damaged cable or that that the power is getting partially grounded somehow.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          if you live near high voltage cables run cables beneath to tap of electricity by induction

          BUSTED: Mythbusters did it [mythbustersresults.com].
          You don't get nearly enough power.
          video here [howstuffworks.com]

      • by turing_m (1030530)

        Missing option: the inductive way. Requires land under high tension power lines. AFAIK, there is still a good chance that you will get caught.

      • by dbIII (701233)

        There is a risk of a meter reader noticing, but if you have a remotely-monitored smart-meter then this is an option. Popular with intensive pot-growers

        The other side of that coin is that a pot grower in Australia with a lot of plants very well hidden in several large fibreglass water tanks was caught only because the meter reader noticed several cables going from the back of the meter box to the tanks.

      • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:53AM (#33881408) Journal

        The insane way

        No, the truly insane way to steal power would be to nick a nuclear power plant and install it in your garden shed.

    • Meter readers only read the meters they know about. There is nothing to stop me climbing up the power pole outside my house and clamping my own cables on to the mains supply. I would need to know what I was doing (this guy did, and I probably do to a smaller degree) and I would have to live with the possibility of death by electrocution. Somebody might notice the connection one day, most likely a repair crew working on a different job. It would be hard to hide because they would just follow the cable.

      But sa

      • genius! (Score:3, Funny)

        by Qubit (100461)

        But say I had an electric vehicle with cleverly designed arms (like the gear on the top of a tram) which could reach up to the power lines, charge up, then fold up again. I could probably get away with doing that for years in the middle of the night, especially if I had signs on my vehicle suggesting some official status.

        Wait, so let me get this straight: You design an electric vehicle with special arms whose sole purpose is to reach up its arms at night to recharge, then sit there during the day as the bat

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)

          No, during the day you drive it around. Then stop where you can steal power during the night.

      • by rjames13 (1178191)

        cleverly designed arms

        Pantographs.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)

          cleverly designed arms

          Pantographs.

          Yeah thats the word but now I am thinking in terms of jumper cables with hooks on the end and a snare built out of 40mm pipe with a cable running along the inside. If you can bang in your own ground you might just need to snare the active. Design it for a fast charge. Could be the breakthrough that electric vehicles have been waiting for!

    • Here in the UK mains cables run mostly underground. Assuming you are familiar with live working on underground cables it would be pretty easy to add an unauthorised branch and it would be almost impossible for them to find it.

      Metering guys are only going to notice theft if you are retarded enough to do it at the metering position in a property that officially has electricity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:16AM (#33879784)

    So I guess the charges he was brought up on were negative, am I right?

  • Bad puns aside... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xenobyte (446878) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:21AM (#33879806)

    If people were willing to use this scheme to get cheaper electricity, I guess the electricity is too expensive.

    Here in Denmark over 90% of the amount we pay for electricity is various taxes. No wonder people turn to alternative solutions because once you've done yours and switched bulbs, appliances and everything to the most environmentally friendly versions available, you still get a hefty bill and there's nothing (more) you can do about it - except perhaps to steal the electricity that is... ;)

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      ... you still get a hefty bill and there's nothing (more) you can do about it - except perhaps to steal the electricity that is... ;)

      Produce it? (PV, methane [loganenergy.com]fuell-cell [cfcl.com.au]... even riding your exercise bike while your spouse irons the cloths? ;) )

      • ... you still get a hefty bill and there's nothing (more) you can do about it - except perhaps to steal the electricity that is... ;)

        Produce it? (PV,

        Not in the UK!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drsquare (530038)

      I believe it was the landlord doing this, not the tenants who probably paid the landlord for utilities. And people will always want free stuff.

    • by srothroc (733160)
      Either it was expensive or people love to make "easy" money. I'm guessing it was the latter, really; there are no mass electricity thefts that I know of.
    • Just out of curiosity, how much do you pay over there?

      For comparison: I'm in a major city in Texas. On my last electric bill, I was billed for about 589 kWh of electricity, and paid $78.28, including taxes and all fees. That number includes a $17.10 installation fee (first month), so if I use roughly the same amount of electricity on the next bill, it might be a little over $60.

      Of the total, $2.07 is listed as "sales tax." That would be somewhere just over 2% of the total amount. Now, maybe there are other

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Though considering most of that comes from coal/etc., it might as well be that the price doesn't quite cover all the costs...

        (surely the differences in vehicle fuel prices are quite close to what you ask about)

      • by sa1lnr (669048)

        Last winter I was averaging £100 ($150 approx) a month on electricity and the same again on gas.

        That is in a 3 storey, 3 bedroom modern town-house in London. The rent is £400 a month
        with a housing association. The rent would be at least double or probably triple that
        if it was with a private landlord. To buy a similar property in my current area I would
        need to find somewhere in the region of £400,000.

        Property prices in London are mental.

      • by walshy007 (906710)
        Not sure about the UK but in australia I'm getting electricity bills of about $200/month, with only the usual tv/computer/lights on each evening.
      • by Zumbs (1241138)
        I live in Copenhagen, Denmark and my last bill were some $148 for 304 kWh all included - or some 49 cents per kWh compared to your 13 cents. Some 43% of the bill comes from various taxes and public commitments, so the non-taxed price is 28 cents per kWh. However, it should be noted that some if this is flat rate subscriptions, which has a larger influence on my low power consumption. Taking these into account, your usage of 589 kWh would cost some $247 in Denmark or 42 cents per kWh. So, it would be resonab
      • by jimicus (737525)

        A number of people have replied giving their typical electricity bill.

        The problem with this is that you can't compare on the basis of what a person's electricity bill is, because there are all sorts of lifestyle factors that impact the bill but aren't included when you hear "I pay £N/month". For instance, if you're in Texas, I'll assume you probably have air conditioning in your house and it frequently runs during the summer months? Not really necessary in the UK, since it seldom goes above 30 Celsi

      • Here in .au my last bill was $114.90 for 384 kWh. AUD is roughly equivalent to USD at the moment: 113.21 USD.

        That includes 10% GST ($10.44), a 75c fee for credit card payment of my last bill, and $21.27 for 'Natural Power Premium' where they allegedly source equivalent of my energy usage from renewable resources, and a $9.73 'supply charge' which I assume is a fixed price for being connected to the grid. That leaves $72.70 as being for the energy usage itself.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Considering what "pleasure" it is to deal with some London landlords, and the perpetrator here might well be one of them, it's not too improbable that many people actually didn't know they were stealing.

    • by Zumbs (1241138)
      I think you need to reread your electricity bill. I live in Denmark as well, and on my bill taxes amount to some 43% of the price.
  • Harry Tuttle? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by forkazoo (138186) <(wrosecrans) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:22AM (#33879814) Homepage

    Tuttle, or was it Buttle? Anyhow, clearly a rogue handyman on the loose. Better arrest somebody.

    • by c0lo (1497653)
      Unfortunately, Lint and Kurtzzman are busy dealing hotels in breach with the ISP laws [slashdot.org] for the moment.
      Can this wait for a while? Or maybe you should check if he wasn't dormanted already?
    • by Zumbs (1241138)
      Do you have the correct form, mr. Forkazoo? Oh, you do. Unfortunately it isn't stamped correctly. Please proceed to the Ministry of Information to get the correct stamps ...
  • by Krittick (1740572) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:24AM (#33879822)
    Sounds like he already did the community service.
  • Buttle, anyone? (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by c0lo (1497653)
    ...errr, I mean Archibald "Harry" Tuttle.
    Don't know why, but I don't find surprising at all the guy is from the same country as the The Pythons.
  • Of course one way or another you pay for everything but power should be lumped into the library, schools, and roads category. If without it people freeze to death [cnn.com] then any worthwhile government should see that nobody gets a monthly bill for it. I don't feel sorry for these so called public utility companies.
    • No point having free power if you can't afford a home so everybody should have a free house too.

      (apologies to R.A.H who covered this at the end of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

    • by sznupi (719324)

      I almost remember how the central heating was used when there was just one metering device for each stairway (which would one for 30 apartments where I am). People... just don't possess the sense of moderation in such background utilities (which of course ended either with over-engineered heating plant, or every radiator being at most lukewarm)

      And I don't know about Michigan / I won't read the link obviously - but where I live there are also places to keep oneself warm; and vast majority of freezing deaths

  • No Pirate, a Thief (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grismar (840501) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:19AM (#33880042)
    Since I think the distinction between thieves and pirates can be a useful one in the debate on software piracy, I'd say we're dealing with a thief here - not a pirate.
    • by mjwx (966435)
      This guy could very well have a peg leg and eye patch for all you know, that would definitely qualify him as a pirate.
    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @07:30AM (#33880970)
      No sane, unbiased tech person would have put the word "Pirate" in the title relating to this story. Even the linked Reg story calls him a "Rogue Engineer" and we all know Orlowski is first to bash any "freetards".

      Does that minus sign next to the story title do anything? I'm going to press it anyway.
  • by blankoboy (719577)
    Get it?
  • by noidentity (188756) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @03:22AM (#33880058)
    He didn't steal the power, he just borrowed it. For every electron that went into his wires, he sent one right back to the electric company. So he just copied them. Or something.
    • The electrons were kidnapped, imprisoned and for all we know used for immoral purposes by being forced to download 4chan. Thats no way to treat a bunch of 14 billion year old atomic particles. The UN should so something about this. Please, won't anybody think about the fermions?

  • The article doesn't give any useful information about what was actually going on and doesn't mention dodgy landlord Haresh Parmar cited in the summary.

  • And yet I believed my parents when they told me I should get a nice office-job because I would earn better than an electrician.
  • Note the use of the New Labour asset seizure law, which allows the police to seize the whole of a person's assets on the assumption that they all derive from illegal acts. The victim then has to prove that they came by the assets legally in order to get them back... The concept of being prosecuted for stealing electricity is laughable when you recall how private companies got control of electricity generation and distribution in the UK in the first place.
    • "The victim then has to prove that they came by the assets legally in order to get them back"

      Well, yeah! Guilty until proven innocent is clearly the most intelligent way to go about things.

  • by freaker_TuC (7632) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @07:22AM (#33880942) Homepage Journal

    .. They wouldn't have stolen it that fast when it had DRM!

    (I can't believe I've said pro-DRM crap; my low-uid must be tarnished for life now!)

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