RURAL residents are warned to be vigilant following a spate of thefts of gas cylinders across the country.
Scrap metal thieves stole some 200,000 gas cylinders with a market value of £9m from across the UK last year.
Calor Gas cylinders accounted for half of these thefts. Almost three-quarters of the company's is providing gas to homes and businesses which are off the mains supply, predominantly in rural areas.
Rural residents have inevitably been targeted and are advised to be particularly vigilant regarding any cylinders they might own.
One Calor retailer in Lincolnshire was approached by two men in a pick-up truck who claimed that they had been sent by Calor to collect any empty cylinders.
When the retailer refused to give them any cylinders, the two men altered their approach and offered the retailer one pound for each empty cylinder. Again, their request was refused and the police were notified.
Calor said it was concerned that such activity might be replicated elsewhere, targeting more unsuspecting end users, especially in rural regions.
Company spokesman Paul Blacklock urged customers to be increasingly cautious.
"If customers are in anyway suspicious, we ask that they contact their usual Calor supplier immediately.
"The police are actively pursuing people involved in the illegal handling of stolen metal, of which gas cylinders are a large part, and we ask that everyone helps the police by being particularly aware of any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour.
Rural residents who possess any unwanted Calor cylinders are advised to return them to their nearest Calor Centre, dealer or stockist.
In the meantime, they are warned to monitor closely any suspicious activity and alert the police if necessary.
"For the last 75 years, we have never needed a system to track our gas cylinders, but that has changed," said Mr Blacklock.
"There is a criminal element at play here. This is beyond casual theft.
"It is these cylinders that have fallen prey to the metal-theft crime wave. It is happening in some of the most remote communities in the country."
Calor Gas has written to 1500 scrap yards, urging them not to accept the stolen steel cylinders.
Even a nominally empty cylinder will contain traces of the highly flammable gas and represents a hazard to anyone involved in removing valves or cutting up the cylinder.
Fires, serious injury and avoidable deaths have all been recorded.
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