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By Connie Osborne Monday 04 March 2013 Updated: 04/03 11:41
A FORMER firefighter stole more than £42,000 worth of metal drain covers from across Worcestershire, including some in Bromsgrove, to fund his drug addiction, a court heard.
Graham Leith was jailed for three and a half years at Worcester Crown Court last Friday (March 1). The 27-year-old of High Street admitted stealing 113 drain covers worth £28,000 belonging to Worcestershire County Council and 57 drain covers worth £14,250 belonging to Solihull Borough Council.
The former Warwickshire firefighter committed the offences between November 2011 and January last year where he targeted residential roads, A-roads and industrial estates in Bromsgrove, Redditch, Studley, Alcester and Shirley.
He also admitted one charge of converting criminal property which related to selling a quantity of drain covers for £428 cash to a scrap yard in Kingswinford in the West Midlands.
Leith was arrested after members of the public contacted the police in the early hours of January 17, last year, claiming a man was acting suspiciously in a hired van.
When police stopped the van they found 17 drain covers in the back. They later searched his home and also uncovered van hiring receipts and route planners to scrap metal dealers in the West Midlands.
Martin Butterworth, defending, said Leith stole the drain covers to fund his cannabis addiction because he was no longer employed. But he was disgusted and ashamed of his actions.
"How then, a man with that background, with a commitment to helping people, to then steal drain covers which put people at the risk of harm is hard to grasp," he said.
Recorder John Steel QC said Leith had a wholly reckless disregard for the public and it was simply good luck no one was injured.
"If you take drain covers out of the road there's some potential of someone walking, cycling or driving along and something happening. You were reckless in this case and your offending was for your own personal gain."
Leith will have to serve at least half of the three and a half year sentence before being considered for release. He was also sentenced to another three and a half years and a further five 12 month sentences, which will all run at the same time.
PC Tom Birchley, of West Mercia Police, said the offence had serious safety implications and the cost of replacing the drain covers would have to be met from public money.
Coun John Smith OBE, responsible for highways and transport on Worcestershire County Council, added: "Not only does it cost the residents of Worcestershire money but criminal acts like this put lives at risk. We now routinely use non-metal covers when replacing specifically because the rise in incidents like this.
"I'm pleased justice has been done and hope this is a deterrent to anyone tempted to do anything like this in the future."
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