A GANG of thieves stole batteries from Openreach boxes to sell for scrap, costing the company "millions" and resulting in higher bills for broadband customers.

Dean Davies, 32, was jailed after he admitted three counts of theft, each containing multiple acts of stealing the batteries, including in Kidderminster, Stourport, Droitwich, Bromsgrove and Redditch.

His co-defendants, Maurice Davies, 33, and Michael Nelson Smith, 21, admitted a single count of theft which also involved multiple batteries being stolen.

Nicholas Berry, prosecuting, said the thefts were motivated by the scrap value of the lead contained in the batteries in the green Openreach fibre optic broadband boxes located at the side of footpaths and roads which provide high speed broadband services to businesses and homes.

The barrister said £3 million of these batteries were stolen nationwide last year and £131,000 in the West Mercia Police force area alone. Each locked box contains four back-up batteries in the event of a power cut and each full set of batteries costs £500 to replace.

However, a business impact statement released by Openreach, a subsidiary of BT, also revealed other costs including inconvenience to customers, disruption of infrastructure and the loss of staff time.

Each theft took about one hour to deal with by specialist engineers, some of whom had to be drafted in from Manchester to deal with the faults and diverted from other jobs.

The company has also had to fund IT systems to better identify when such thefts occur.

Mr Berry said it was a cost "measured in millions of pounds each year" which was passed on in higher bills to customers.

Mr Berry said the focus of the police investigation was a white Renault Master van linked to a theft on April 24 last year, a theft captured on CCTV which showed four batteries being placed in the back.

He said the same van was used to ram a police vehicle in Maypole Road, Stourbridge on May 1 last year which resulted in a pursuit. When the van was stopped two males ran from it.

Police found 43 batteries in the back of the van which was not registered with the DVLA and was being driven on false plates.

Inside they found waste transfer documents in the name of Dean Davies, one concerning 32 batteries dating back to October 28, 2018 and another for 148 batteries from January 22 last year.

The documents were registered to R Davies Metals & Sons in Kingswinford. The van was examined by a scenes of crime officer and DNA linking Dean Davies to the vehicle was found.

On June 5 last year, a red Ford Transit van was stopped containing all three defendants and 36 batteries.

“All were arrested and all answered no comment in interview,” said Mr Berry.

Because each battery had a unique reference number, Openreach could establish the timing and location of the thefts.

One count of theft involved 13 separate thefts in Kidderminster and Stourport (£6,500), another count involved 12 in Redditch (£6,000) and the final count involved five thefts from Droitwich and Bromsgrove (£2,500).

Dean Davies admitted all counts while Maurice Davies and Smith only admitted the final count. They sold the batteries for cash in Kidderminster, the court heard.

All defendants in the case had no previous convictions. Another count will be allowed to lie on file.

Jason Aris, for Dean Davies and Michael Smith, said both his clients had pleaded guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing and urged the judge to bear in mind their lack of previous convictions and that both were deemed by probation to be at a low risk of reoffending.

“Both were extremely silly in what they did,” he said.

The advocate described Dean Davies as a father-of-two and a carer for his dad who suffers from terminal cancer and COPD, arguing that he was "dedicated to his family".

Amanda O’Mara, for Maurice Davies, said the boxing coach had lost a baby and his partner was about to be induced. A reference from another boxing coach referred to him as an "undeniably good man who went down the wrong path".

Judge Cartwright, sentencing, said: “All of these thefts were professional and planned. The motivation was purely greed.”

He said there was sophistication in that they had acquired keys to the boxes and they wore high visibility clothing to make anyone who saw them think they were carrying out legitimate work.

He jailed Dean Davies of Mullet Street, Brierley Hill for 27 months. Maurice Davies of Mullet Street, Brierley Hill and Michael Nelson Smith of Tiled House Lane, Brierley Hill, were both sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days.