POLICE officers are stepping up patrols in a Basingstoke suburb in a bid to foil overnight copper thieves.

A total of 31 copper piping thefts have taken place in the Abbey Road and Shakespeare Road areas of Popley since October 10 – and last Wednesday, there were three such thefts.

In almost all of the cases, the piping has been taken from the overflow systems of boilers on older-style houses.

The police believe the thieves have used hacksaws or specialist plumbing equipment to remove the pipes.

The length of piping taken has been up to six feet.

Acting Chief Inspector David Winter, of Basingstoke police, told The Gazette: “A lot of these copper pipes come out of the house, take a 90 degree bend and go down the side of the house, and the thieves are cutting them where they come out of the house. This is just another example of metal thefts.”

There have been no witnesses so far, and the police believe the thefts are taking place between 2am and 5am.

While officers are carrying out extra patrols in Popley during those times, they have appealed for night workers to watch out for, and report, any suspicious behaviour.

Acting Chief Insp Winter added: “We are telling people that they could consider boxing in their pipework or speak to their landlords to see if it’s something that could be done.

“They could also paint the pipes black so that they appear to be plastic.”

The thefts come at a time when the price of copper worldwide is increasing.

A Home Office report into metal thefts, published in December 2011, said that the demand for copper in the Far East rose by 10 per cent per month that year.

In June this year, Hampshire Constabulary launched a crackdown on metal thefts, dubbed Operation Tornado. It required individuals to provide proof of identity, including their current address, when trying to sell scrap metal to dealers.

Anyone with information on the metal thefts can contact Basingstoke Safer Neighbourhoods Team on 101.