POLICE are warning Bodmin residents of the dangers of tampering with gas and electricity meters after claiming the criminal offence is widespread in the town.
Officers found people fiddling their electricity meters at two homes on one night last week. PC Robin Riches said officers accompanied Western Power staff to two addresses in Wallace Road.
"Both had been tampered with and the meter had been bypassed," he said.
"Damage had been caused to the meters and they were in a dangerous condition.
"Western Power made them both safe and the electricity supplier replaced the meters later that evening.
"One household was left with no power as the meter was so badly damaged that it wasn't safe to reconnect it.
"The occupants told us that there are a lot of people in Bodmin who've done the same. I suspect this is quite widespread.
"There's obviously the risk of causing a fire or children touching exposed terminals.
"Western Power has legal powers to enter any address in order to check the meter and this can be done whether or not the occupant is present. They report any incidents to us and the occupant will be dealt with for the offence of abstracting electricity.
"I'd like to discourage anyone else from doing it and also encourage people who have done it to own up to it and have their meters replaced."
Lian White, a digital communications officer with Western Power Distribution in Bristol, said people trying to bypass electricity meters were putting themselves at serious risk.
"Electricity theft is extremely dangerous and often in cases of abstraction the meter is bypassed very crudely," she said.
"Investigations find that meters and cables damaged by tampering have an increased likelihood of having exposed live copper, providing a significantly increased risk of injury or death by electrocution or fire."
With energy prices rising more people across the country are tampering with their supplies to avoid paying for power and Mark Andrews, British Gas's head of revenue protection, said: "It's a difficult economic climate.
"More people are feeling this is the only way they can get their energy, so the trend is upwards.
"This is a huge problem; we believe £500 million-worth of energy is stolen each year. That's £30 a year on customers' bills – money they shouldn't have to pay."
The Cornwall Rural Community Council (CRCC) is holding a series of events across Cornwall during Big Energy Saving Week to help those in the county struggling to afford their energy bills.
North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson, one of its supporters, said: "I met Peter Jefferson of the CRCC this week to talk about what advice and support is available to local people, especially vulnerable people struggling to keep their homes warm.
"By visiting the website at www.bigenergysavingweek.org.uk or you can get tips on getting the best energy tariff, making sure your house is energy efficient and cutting costs through schemes like oil-buying groups. If I can help in any way then please don't hesitate to contact me."
Mr Rogerson can be contacted at 4 Tower Street, Launceston, PL15 8BQ, on 01566 777123, at the Commons on 020-7219 4707 or by e-mail, email@example.com