A gang of callous thieves are putting lives in danger after stealing scrap metal in an organised blitz across Sussex.

Around 100 drain covers and two metal gates have been nicked by the thieves in the last year, with 70 of the iron drain covers, valued at around £250 each, going in the last two weeks.

In each case the missing covers have left gaping holes in the road, potentially creating a serious accident involving a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian.

Council bosses believe organised gangs have taken the drains to sell on for at least £100 a time as scrap metal.

Two metal subway gates, valued at £800 and designed to stop motorcyclists roaring through a pedestrian walkway, have also been stolen in the last few weeks, again for their scrap metal value.

In total more than £20,000 worth of metal has been stolen since April 2006 from at least ten different locations across the county.

West Sussex county councillor Tex Pemberton said: "This is not just about theft. Leaving a drain open and exposed is highly irresponsible, and could cause a serious accident.

"It is quite a stupid act, and anyone being offered these covers for purchase will be aware that they are likely to be receiving stolen goods if they take up the offer."

A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said: "The exposed chamber holes are approximately 300mm by 450mm and can be up to one metre in depth, this could cause serious accidents if a pedestrian or cyclist were to fall into them.

"They could also cause motorists to lose control of their car or motorcycle.

"It is assumed that the stolen grates will be sold as scrap metal.

"East Sussex Highways are contacting scrap metal dealers and asking them to report anyone attempting to sell the grates.

"We are also working to find the sites where grates have been stolen, make them safe and replace the grate as soon as possible.

"However this additional demand on manpower and resources means other roadworks may be delayed."

The latest spate of 70 thefts occurred in East Sussex with 22 drains being taken in one night from Common Lane, Selmeston.

Further incidents have taken place since May 2 from Shaw Farm Road, Eridge, The Bricky, Peacehaven, Wellington Lane, Ringmer, the A26, Ringmer and New Road, Ringmer.

Last year in West Sussex more than 20 drain covers were taken from Horsham, Lower Beeding and Warnham.

Most recently the two sets of metal gates were taken from a subway in Bognor.

The councils are urging people to report suspicious activity to Sussex Police on 0845 6070999.

Has your area been affected by scrap metal theft? Have you narrowly avoided serious injury after a theft? Leave your comments below.