A SCRAP metal thief almost caused a catastrophic explosion after stealing gas pipes from an abandoned flat – just two floors below his own property.
Tenants at 13 flats in Coatfield Lane, Leith, had to be evacuated following potentially life-saving intervention by police on September 8 last year.
The danger was sparked when William Stewart, then a resident at the block, ripped copper piping from a vacant flat in the ground floor causing hazardous gas to escape putting other tenants at risk.
Police went to investigate reports of a strong odour coming from the building and ordered an immediate evacuation after finding the door to the street level flat unlocked, and hearing the sound of escaping gas from inside.
Firefighters and Scottish Gas engineers rushed to the scene to shut off the supply as police discovered that copper pipes attached to the mains had been stripped from the property.
At Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday, William Stewart, appearing on his 27th birthday, pleaded guilty to culpably and recklessly removing the pipes, causing the gas to escape and endangering the occupants.
Isabel Clark, fiscal depute, told Sheriff Alistair Noble there was always the grave risk of explosion when gas escaped into the atmosphere.
“It could have been catastrophic,” she told the court and added that officers had questioned Stewart, now of Lochend Road, earlier in the day after spotting him with a stash of copper pipes.
Police were aware there had been a spate of metal thefts in the city but when asked about the pipes he said he had found them in a bin and was taking them to a scrap yard to get money for drugs.
It was later in the day when officers returned to investigate a strong smell of gas around the block of flats.
After he was arrested Stewart told police he had taken the pipes leading from the meter and admitted he could smell gas and hear it escaping as he tore them out.
The court heard that at the time of the incident Stewart had been living two floors above the ground floor flat.
Councillor Iain Whyte, convenor of the Lothian and Borders Police Board, praised the work of officers for bringing a “positive outcome to what could have been a very dangerous event indeed”.
Sentence on Stewart was deferred for background reports.