Copper thieves who stole a safety device worth £20 from an electricity substation caused a huge power surge that damaged appliances and started small fires in hundreds of homes in Greater Manchester yesterday.
Almost 400 properties in Westhoughton, Bolton, were without power until late last night while workers tried to repair the damage.
Thefts of copper from roofs and cabling have inconvenienced thousands of households in recent months, typically leaving them without phone lines and internet connections.
The alarm was first raised shortly before 8am when people called the fire brigade to report that their appliances had started catching fire. United Utilities engineers arrived at the scene to find the copper neutral switching gear had been stolen.