Thieves could have caused a gas explosion in the centre of a town when they ripped away copper piping from a building.
Sensing an easy steal, the offenders cut pieces of copper and lead piping from the back of law firm Lamb and Holmes, in West Street, Kettering, sometime overnight on Wednesday.
But by taking the piping away the thieves caused a gas leak which was only smelt by fire crews attending an incident next door.
The firefighters called National Grid workmen, which turned off the supply to the building.
Yesterday, the solicitors’ firm officer manager John Castka criticised the thieves.
He said: “I dread to think what could have happened if there had been a spark nearby.
“They caused so much damage and possible danger – all for a bit of copper which will probably get them only about £5.
“Some people are so desperate.”
It is thought the thieves got to the piping by jumping over 6ft-high fencing at the back of the building.
Fire station manager Mick Berry attended the incident at 5.30am.
He said: “It was a major hazard, it could have caused an explosion and it is lucky no-one was around.
“The vandals caused so much risk and hazard for only a small bit of value.”
A National Grid spokesman said such incidents were on the increase.
He said: “We’ve had stories of whole streets of houses having the piping stolen.
“It’s a difficult one for us because the thieves are hard to stop.”