A CABLE thief who caused train delays and cost a rail company thousands of pounds for the sake of a small amount of scrap metal has been locked up for 18 months.

Joseph Smithson and two others stole 130 metres of telecommunications cable and 75 metres of signal cable from the line at Billingham, near Stockton, last March.

The trio – two of whom have never been caught – weighed in the copper at a scrapyard after burning off its coating and made £200 each, a court heard.

Smithson, 21, of Beech Terrace, Port Clarence, near Stockton, was arrested eight months later after his DNA was found on a drinks bottle left at the scene.

He was the subject of a suspended prison sentence – imposed for a street robbery committed with others in February 2010 – at the time of the cable theft.

Prosecutor Ian Mullarkey told Teesside Crown Court how the cost of repairs, to be met by Network Rail, and to passengers on the line was more than £10,000.

The court heard how, after his arrest, Smithson featured on a BBC Inside Out documentary highlighting the problems and hidden costs of cable thefts.

Duncan McReddie, mitigating, said he confessed when police traced him months after the offence, but the court heard he would not name his accomplices.

Judge Peter Armstrong told Smithson, who admitted theft: “The trouble with these offences – like stealing lead from church roofs – is the knock-on effect.

“It seems to me you were fortunate to receive that suspended sentence and, therefore, extremely foolish to commit another offence in breach of it.

“Theft of cable is an offence which the courts are concerned with more and more these days... this all stems from the cost of copper going up.

“It can be very tempting, but you, being on a suspended sentence, should have avoided the temptation.

“You didn’t and you now have to pay the price.”