COPPER thieves are striking universities, churches, railways and power stations, cashing in on high commodity prices driven largely by demand from China.NSW Police has established a taskforce to fight illegal trade in the metal, with some scrap merchants and organised gangs prepared to pay up to $150 a kilogram.Thieves stripped 16 metres of copper pipe from two historic University of Sydney colleges – St Andrew’s and Wesley – early on Tuesday morning.”The pipes were harshly and savagely ripped off by vandals,” St Andrew’s College principal Wayne Erickson said. ”We are very sad about the impact these vandals have had on our beautiful building. They have ruined the architectural integrity of the college and tarnished the face of the college.”Wesley College master Lisa Sutherland said: ”The robberies seemed to happen in a blind spot of our CCTV footage … The pipes are going to be quite costly to replace.”Two more of the university’s residential colleges, Sancta Sophia and International House, were struck this month.EnergyAustralia said there had been 20 separate thefts on the central coast in the past week. ”These thieves need to be aware that this is live electrical equipment. It’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt,” a spokeswoman said.Anglican Diocese spokesman Russell Powell said six Anglican churches had been struck in the past three months. ”These thefts are a big concern for us. They are mainly occurring in the western suburbs, with the robbers targeting the older, historical churches,” he said.St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Belmore was hit three times over Easter. ”They came back three times and have completely ruined the piping. I didn’t even hear a thing. It is going to cost at least $15,000 to fix the damage,” parish priest James Collins said.In February, copper cabling was stolen at an inner-west railway, causing peak-hour delays.A NSW Police spokesman said: ”We are definitely seeing an increase in the theft of copper, particularly copper coils and cables from workplaces and railway tracks.”Police Minister Michael Daley said the rising price of scrap metal copper was behind the thefts, which had led ”to the loss of more than $200,000 for businesses, risks to public safety, as well as shutting down the supply of electricity to homes, traffic lights and businesses last year”.Suspicious activity around electricity substations, churches, universities and street equipment such as light poles should be reported to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
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