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Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2006, 20:50 GMT
Thieves destroying parking meters
Phone
Meters may be replaced by phone paying after the thefts
Gangs of thieves are using power saws to cut down parking meters filled with coins in central London, according to Westminster Council.

The council said it had lost more than 200,000 in revenue in the past 10 weeks due to the thieves.

The problem has become so bad that the council is now speeding up plans to replace its meters with a new way of recovering parking fees.

It may widen a scheme for customers to pay fees by mobile phone.

In the last 10 or 12 weeks it's really become serious... it's not just in our area
Alistair Gilchrist,
Westminster Council

The scheme has been trialled in Soho and Covent Garden.

Alistair Gilchrist, from Westminster Council, said the thefts are costing the council as much as 20,000 a week.

"In the last 10 or 12 weeks it's really become serious... it's not just in our area," he said.

He said the police and council believed it was not just one culprit but "there could be gangs operating in Westminster".

Meter 'patches'

The thieves have been using angle-grinders and pipe cutters to slice the meters in two, while others have been using master keys to open meters and remove the coins - as much as 70 from each meter.

As well as bringing the payment by phone scheme forward, Mr Gilchrist said the council was also offering a reward for any information about the meter thefts.

The Metropolitan Police said officers have already arrested people carrying meter keys, and have attended disturbances which may be linked to the thefts.

It said it was not ruling out the possibility gangs were fighting over control of meter "patches".


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The parking meters which have been targetted



SEE ALSO
Town gets phone-and-park scheme
15 Jul 06 |  Dorset

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