Desperate thieves are dicing with death for the sake of a few pounds worth of scrap metal.

Criminals hunting for copper and loose wires have attacked electricity substations in Lewes seven times in the past month.

In one case thieves caused £800 of damage when they stole copper worth just £22.

In another incident about 1,700 homes lost power when the network was interfered with.

Other stolen items included five generator leads, essential safety earthing equipment and more copper worth about £57.

The damage has prompted an urgent public appeal by the county’s power distributor.

Colin Barden, UK Power Networks’ head of network operations, said: “The intruders have blatantly ignored danger-of-death signs and forced entry to a series of sites before tampering with live equipment at their peril.

“There is no doubt in my mind they are risking life-changing burns and death for the sake of a few pounds, endangering our dedicated staff and innocent members of the public, plus it could cause power cuts for the area.”

He added the spate of break-ins, thefts and criminal damage had left sites unsecured and created “death traps” for unsuspecting power engi- neers sent to carry out inspections, maintenance or repairs.

In June a teenager was left fighting for his life after suffering a severe elec- tric shock as he tried to steal copper from an electricity substation.

The 17-year-old was found in a street in Littlehampton with severe burns to his torso, back and arms.

A Sussex Police spokesperson said: “We are aware of recent incidents at electricity installations in the area and are working closely with UK Power Networks to find those people who are responsible and help prevent further incidents.

“If you see anything suspicious around installations of this type, dial 999 right away.”