A gang of five metal thieves who targeted the Ribble Valley were caught after an alert householder noted their vehicle registration number.
The five, all Romanian, are now facing prison after pleading guilty to Ribble Valley copper cabling thefts valued at £28,500.
Burnley Crown Court heard that the gang had struck 14 times between March and July in 2012, and the cost of restoring the stolen metal was £90,000.
They targeted locations ranging from a sub-station to a waste water plant and rural farms in Bashall Eaves, Billington, Clitheroe, Dinckley, Hurst Green, Ribchester and Sabden.
Mark Lamberty, prosecuting, said that all five had been stopped by police on the southbound carriageway of the M6 in two vehicles, a green Peugeot van and a blue Vauxhall Zafira, travelling in convoy at around 5.20am on July 3rd last year.
This was only a few hours after a total of £6,000 of copper cabling had been stolen from two sites in Dinckley and another in Sabden.
Police found evidence of addresses, postcodes of sites in Lancashire, incriminating documentation and a pair of boots with metal attachments, similar to pole-climbing equipment.
At Ribchester, the green Peugeot’s number was noted by a resident who used his bonoculars after spotting it at around 3.30am on May 22nd, hours before £1,500 of copper cabling was stolen from Gallows Lane.
Mr Lamberty told the court of other evidence of the gang’s activity, notably an electrical flash at a site in Chipping Road in Clitheroe on June 13th during an attempted theft and an indication of technical knowledge had been used at the Sabden theft on July 3rd by isolating a safe section of wire.
The gang – Alexandru Codrut Tudor (21), Mahai Georgian Antonala (28), Alexandru Beligan (28), Marius Avram (48) and Gabriel Predusca (24), all from the West Midlands – will be sentenced at Preston Crown Court next week after admitting conspiracy to steal.
All five were remanded in custody, where they have been since July last year.