Street sleepers rejoice as thieves cash in on spiralling commodity prices

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2008, 12:00am

Street sleepers have been having a much more comfortable time resting on public park benches across the New Territories - thanks to metal thieves.

Criminals have been stealing metal armrests partitioning public benches, designed to prevent people from lying flat. They have also raided manhole covers in the streets, and signs and doorknobs in public housing estates, according to police.

Rising commodity prices are to blame. A stainless steel metal armrest for benches costs upwards of HK$1,000 to install, and thieves resell them for a few hundred dollars. Unscrupulous recycling operators are happy to buy them, no questions asked. Three people were busted this week when a suspect was spotted in broad daylight kicking at armrests and dismantling them at a park in Yuen Long. He had collected six and sold them to two recycling shops. Officers tracked his entire journey.

After he completed the sales, police arrested the suspect and two scrap metal operators.

'There has been a significant rise in the number of thefts involving public property, especially items with significant metal content,' a Yuen Long police spokesman said.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, however, has promised to reinstall the armrests as soon as feasible. 'We don't want people sleeping on benches all day,' a Yuen Long park manager said.