Police lift the lid on trade in stolen manhole covers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 12:00am

Steel from Hong Kong's streets is being sold to meet the mainland's demand for scrap metal

Twenty dollars for 11kg of steel worth $2,000 sounds like a bargain - but it could be money down the drain for scrap metal dealers.

Police are cracking down on the rising trend of thefts of manhole covers from Hong Kong's streets.

With prices for scrap metal soaring everywhere as the mainland economy sucks in commodities to feed its factories, police have warned dealers against trading in manhole and drain covers.

In the past month, at least 135 covers have been stolen. Last year they were fetching 60 cents a catty, but prices this year have risen by between 70 and 80 per cent.

A police source said drug addicts and mainland scavengers were suspected of stealing the manhole covers and gratings. Thefts have been reported from parks and other public areas, and from housing estates, in various parts of Hong Kong this year.

Last month, 96 drain covers were stolen from a park at the junction of Jordan Road and Canton Road in Yau Ma Tei. Eleven were taken in Kwun Tong and 28 from the Po Lam MTR station on Mau Yip Road in Tseung Kwan O. The MTR Corporation has now secured drain covers at the station.

A spokeswoman for the Housing Department said more than 200 drain covers had been stolen from public housing estates last year - 159 alone from the Shun Lee Estate in Sau Mau Ping last August. She said drain covers had been secured and staff and security guards had stepped up patrols. As a result, no covers had been stolen this year.

Chief Inspector Man Tat-shing, the assistant divisional commander (crime) in Kwun Tong, said that officers had increased the number of patrols in Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O following the thefts last month.

'We believe the stolen drain covers will probably be sold to stores which collect scrap metal, waste cardboard and second-hand goods,' he said.

'Our officers have checked 20 such stores in the district and asked their operators to report to police if they collect drain covers printed with government or MTR logos.'

He said dealers and their employees had been warned that they could face prosecution if they handled stolen drain covers.

Under the Theft Ordinance, convictions for handling stolen goods can lead to a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.