Electricity theft highest in a decade amid cost-of-living crisis
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People illegally tampering with meters to steal electricity in Norfolk is at its highest for a decade, figures show.
Electricity theft - which can be carried out by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter - has the potential to cause serious injury and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Though already an increasing problem, the National Energy Action (NEA) campaign group said it is "horrifying" that more people could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing energy crisis.
Home Office figures show police forces across England and Wales received 3,600 reports of "dishonest use of electricity" in the year to March - up 13pc on 2020-21.
In Norfolk there were 25 reported power thefts, the highest since comparable records began in 2012-13.
In total there have been 179 reported thefts over the past decade in Norfolk and 122 in Suffolk.
Stay Energy Safe, operated by Crimestoppers, warned that tampering with a meter can lead to wires overheating, damage to property and potentially loss of life.
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But the NEA said the cost-of-living crisis is forcing people into "increasingly desperate situations" where they are looking to avoid energy use - including using candles instead of lights - or possibly resorting to electricity theft.
Peter Smith, NEA director of policy and advocacy, said: "This is not only illegal but dangerous too, and it's horrifying if the crisis is forcing households to try this to keep the lights on.
"And this is happening now, before winter and the cold weather hits."
Up to now the biggest driver of stolen electricity has been power-hungry cannabis growing with criminal gangs behind growing farms tampering with wiring to illegally reconnect supplies or stealing from neighbouring properties.
Nine out of 22 reports in Norfolk in 2020 were linked to cannabis production.
One unwitting victim was Thorpe St Andrew Londis store owner Rajendran Sivasutharjanan who was shocked to receive a £12,000 electricity bill in 2019.
Police raided the flat above his store and discovered nearly 250 cannabis plants filling three rooms.
People were also charged last year with illegally abstracting electricity following cannabis farm finds in a former bar and restaurant on Prince of Wales Road in Norwich and at properties in Costessey and Bowthorpe.