Let­ter box lar­ceny: cu­ri­ous crimes be­devil Great Bri­tain

The China Post - - ARTS - BY NICK MOR­RI­SON

A spate of thefts tar­get­ing the bright red post boxes that have been a fea­ture of the UK’s street corners since the 19th cen­tury have forced the postal ser­vice to fight back — with an ar­se­nal of high-tech tools.

Royal Mail has un­veiled plans to use foren­sic tag­ging to iden­tify stolen post boxes and even elec­tronic track­ing to keep a close watch on these re­as­sur­ingly iconic land­marks of wind­ing lanes and vil­lage greens.

The com­pany has warned of “a sig­nif­i­cant threat” to the boxes — par­tic­u­larly in “iso­lated ru­ral lo­cal­i­ties” — and is team­ing up with the public body His­toric Eng­land to pro­tect the 115,500-strong net­work.

The Let­ter Box Study Group — an as­so­ci­a­tion of en­thu­si­asts that has be­come the au­thor­ity on the history of the Bri­tish road­side let­ter box — es­ti­mates that up to 200 boxes are pinched ev­ery year.

Royal Mail puts the fig­ure at around 100 on av­er­age.

Some of the more fla­grant cases this year in­clude four valu­able Vic­to­rian-era post boxes swiped over just one week­end in Jan­uary in three Nor­folk vil­lages in eastern Eng­land.

Photos pub­lished in a re­gional news­pa­per showed one post box in Nun­thorpe in north­east Eng­land had been crudely ripped away from the brick­work it was mounted on, leav­ing a sorry pile of rub­ble.

‘Part of the na­tional im­age’

But Royal Mail has a strat­egy to tackle the let­ter box ban­dits.

“We have an in­ter­nal se­cu­rity team at Royal Mail look­ing at equip­ment, in­clud­ing foren­sic tags, per­ma­nent me­tal-mark­ing sys­tems and elec­tronic track­ing,” a spokes- woman told AFP.

“Theft of post boxes is rel­a­tively rare but there are spates in­volv­ing in­di­vid­u­als or gangs.”

Robert Cole of the Let­ter Box Study Group said thieves were likely to have three ma­jor mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors.

“There are peo­ple who are af­ter scrap me­tal, those who are in­ter­ested in the con­tents and those who know the boxes’ her­itage value,” Cole told AFP.

Along with ris­ing me­tal prices, one the­ory be­hind the crimes is that when Royal Mail stopped auc­tion­ing off its old boxes in 2003 it re­duced sup­ply and thereby bumped up prices.

A search on a pop­u­lar online auc­tion site showed the prices peo­ple are will­ing to pay for more un­usual Royal Mail boxes — one pil­lar box was be­ing of­fered for £5,775 (US$8,995), another at £5,200.

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