Scientific measures to combat metal drain theft

By on 29/02/2012 in News

Birmingham City Council and Amey are rolling out a new solution in a bid to combat the on-going issue of metal thefts on Birmingham's roads and identify the perpetrators.

The theft of gully covers - the grates covering drains in the road - is a threat to all road users. An open gully presents a major risk to cyclists and pedestrians in particular, especially in the dark, as they can be very difficult to see. Vehicles can also be damaged if they hit an open gully.

But the partnership, which manages and maintains all of the city's roads, is now using a special forensic identifier on gully covers across the city, which leaves an indelible mark, visible under ultraviolet light, on the cover itself and anyone who touches it. Stolen covers can then be easily identified with the aid of UV light as the grease used by Amey and the City Council will contain a unique molecular code.

Covers across the city are to be marked with the RedWeb grease, which has Police Preferred Specification status and has been approved by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Amey supplies the police with a list of stolen covers and the locations from where they were taken each week. Joint visits to local scrap dealers are being arranged to deter them from accepting any metal gratings other than from legitimate sources and the British Metals Recycling Association will be notifying their members to look out for the stolen and identifiable gully covers.

The campaign will be supported by prominent signage to warn would-be thieves that if they attempt to steal the covers, they will be “forensically tagged”.

John Sunderland, Amey business director, said: “Stolen gully covers are a major threat to the safety of all road users, and Amey and Birmingham City Council are working hard to address this issue.

“This innovative solution should deter thieves from taking the covers in the first place and scrap dealers from accepting them. It will also make apprehension of the thieves and recovery of the covers easier.”

Councillor Timothy Huxtable, Cabinet Member for Transport, Environment and Regeneration, said: “We will not tolerate thieves putting road users' safety at risk in this way.

“We are delighted to be able to roll out the forensic grease and hope thieves will pay attention to the message that we will not allow them to endanger people in the city in this way.”

Detective Chief Inspector Angie Whitaker, the West Midlands Police lead for metal theft, said: “We have dedicated officers working in the West Midlands to specifically tackle metal theft, as this kind of crime is having a significant impact on the region.

“We have seen all kinds of metal items stolen, from plaques to lead from windows, but one item that continues to create problems for authorities and residents alike is the theft of gully covers. No metal recycler should be accepting this kind of item and anyone found to be illegally in possession of gully covers will be prosecuted.

“We welcome any initiatives that may positively impact upon these kinds of offences and make thieves think twice before committing such crimes.”

Anyone who sees a missing gully cover or manhole cover, should report this immediately to the contact centre on 0121 303 6644. Anyone who sees a theft taking place should record as much information as possible, for example, vehicle registration numbers, and report this to the police.

For those who want to give information anonymously about this and any other crime please remember to use the independent charity Crimestoppers simply call 0800 555 111.

Notes to Editors 

  • Whenever a gully cover is reported missing to the Amey help centre, an incident response team will attend the site within one hour to make it safe. This usually involves putting barriers around the open gully.


  • Drainage teams will then visit the site to replace the cover. We are currently trialling the use of composite replacement covers on some roads. These gratings are made from a unique recycled material that has no resale value. The grate can be sealed in with silicon sealant to further prevent theft or vandalism if required. The composite material is considerably lighter than traditional concrete or metal materials and can be fitted by one person.


  • In 2010, Amey won the Birmingham Highways Maintenance and Management Service contract to manage and maintain the city's roads over the next 25 years. The contract will see a huge investment into the city's road network and Amey is working in partnership with Birmingham City Council to deliver the contract. The works include refurbishment and improvement of the city's roads, footways, bridges, tunnels, street lighting and traffic control systems. 


  • Amey is a leading UK infrastructure services provider with more than 11,000 staff. The company works across three main markets – Inter Urban, Local Government and Built Environment, which are supported by our award-winning consultancy division. Amey delivers services in the highways, roads, schools, waste, rail, fleet solutions, workspace, street lighting, commercial, housing and aviation sectors.


For more information, contact Kara Bradley on 0121 200 5002 or email

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