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The New Paper, Singapore, 2 October 2007
Lightning conductor thief sentenced
27 months' jail, 15 strokes of the cane
He is charged with vandalism, not theft, as he endangered the lives of others
By Celine Lim
TO earn a quick buck, he cut off strips of lightning conductors from HDB blocks and sold them to scrap metal dealers.
N Rajagopal didn't venture far to commit his crimes -- he targeted 33 blocks in Serangoon, where he lives.
But the unemployed 43-year-old left the lightning conductors at his block well alone.
It may appear like a simple case of theft, but his actions endangered the lives of all who walked past the damaged lightning conductors, as well as those who lived in the affected blocks.
These strips run from the roof of tall buildings to the ground. They transfer high electrical voltage from lightning strikes to the earth, where it is dispersed safely.
Assistant Public Prosecutor Christine Liu told the court that when there are missing strips, the electrical energy will try to 'jump across' the gaps and could cause a fire.
Worse, the electrical energy might 'jump' to a person in the vicinity, resulting in death.
The court heard that his stealing spree began some time in February.
He would remove the metal brackets securing the lightning conductors to void deck walls with a clawhammer.
He then cut off strips, measuring between 2 to 3 metres in length, from the lightning conductors.
It was not stated in court whether the stolen strips were made of copper or aluminium.
APP Liu called for a deterrent sentence, listing aggravating factors like the 'widespread problem' of metal thefts and public safety.
She cited a 108 per cent jump in metal thefts from 526 cases in 2005 to 1,092 cases in 2006.
This rising trend continued in the first half of this year with 633 reports of metal thefts, up from 446 in the same period last year.
Stolen lightning conductors made up 6 per cent of metal thefts last year.
Rajagopal pleaded guilty to five charges of vandalism and another charge of theft in dwelling.
While out on court bail, he and an accomplice had stolen 12 packs of beer worth $233 from a supermarket on 6Jul. His accomplice was dealt with separately.
Earlier this month, Rajagopal was jailed 27 months and given 15 strokes of the cane.
Another 28 charges of vandalism were taken into consideration during sentencing.
APP Liu said in her submissions that thieves like Rajagopal are charged with vandalism instead of theft because of 'public safety considerations'.
Those convicted of vandalism will get a mandatory three strokes of the cane.
APP Liu added that it is difficult to prevent such crimes 'by vigilance alone' as the lightning conductors located at void decks are 'vulnerable to thieves... who operate under the cover of darkness'.
She said it cost between $50 to $100 to replace each lightning conductor strip. The total damage costs from the 33 counts of vandalism was $2,833.34.
The accused's lawyer, Miss Gloria James, said in the mitigation that he had made full compensation to the relevant town councils.
She said that the unemployed man took 'desperate measures' as he felt 'immense shame' at not being able to support his wife and two children.
She also noted that he had told the investigating officer about all the times he had stolen lightning conductors.
In passing sentence, District Judge Wong Keen Onn said removing any part of the lightning conductor system will 'compromise its efficacy' and the safety of the HDB blocks where members of the public live.
Noting that the offences were premeditated, he called the accused an 'opportunistic criminal, capitalising on the rising prices' of metal.
District Judge Wong thus decided to impose a deterrent sentence to 'deter other like-minded offenders'.
Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.
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