TAXPAYERS will have to plug a £50,000 hole after a gang of metal thieves swiped more than 100 drain covers.
The gully covers – drains at the side of roads for flood water – have a scrap metal value of just a few pounds but fitting replacements is set to cost tens of thousands.
The reckless thieves have been slammed for exposing the drains to create “death traps” for cyclists and other road users after making off with covers from across Midlothian.
The missing covers – all stolen in the last two months – are now being replaced by hinged models to make them difficult to steal.
Detectives say the scrap metal trade is “big business” as prices soar due to high demand from India and China.
Drain cover gangs, many of whom have specialist equipment to remove the covers in seconds, are known to operate all over the UK.
In 2008, an organised crime gang dressed up as council workmen to steal dozens of manhole covers in the Lothians. Almost 100 missing covers went missing in West Lothian in a matter of weeks, while 40 drain covers were stolen in Portobello.
A warning has now been issued for Edinburgh residents to be vigilant of “suspicious activity” around road gullies and manhole covers.
Covers have been stolen from locations including Newtongrange, Lugton, Penicuik, Bonnyrigg, the Penicuik to Roslin roads, the Bush Estate, and along the A7 between Sheriffhall and the Borders.
Councillor Derek Rosie, cabinet member for roads at Midlothian Council, said the replacements would cost £50,000. He added: “Whoever is responsible for these thefts should be ashamed of themselves. Stealing the drains is leaving dangerous holes in the roads that could be death traps for cyclists, not to mention damaging vehicles.
“We’ve put cones round the holes at the minute to hopefully warn of the dangers while we desperately try and replace 100 or so of these drains as soon as possible.”
Metal thieves have also been active in East Lothian, where manhole and drain covers were stolen around Musselburgh. Earlier this month police said around eight manhole covers were taken from the A6124.
Residents were urged to call police if they see council workers carrying out roadside repairs outwith normal working hours.
Police said the covers which were taken were heavy and would have needed a van or flatbed lorry to move them.
Chief Inspector Jim Royan, local commander for Midlothian, said: “The theft of manhole covers is a very dangerous act, and directly risks the lives of all road users, particularly cyclists.
“I would be grateful for any information from the public which would allow us to apprehend and bring to justice the thieves who are doing this.”