Metal thieves who steal copper gas pipes are putting lives at risk say police.

They are investigating a spate of theft from across the area, including from a sheltered housing complex in Trowbridge.

The piping was wrenched away from the wall at Charlotte Court in Timbrell Street in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The alarm was raised after an elderly resident said she smelled gas at 6.15am. Officer also received a call 45 minutes later from a resident in Timbrell Street who could smell gas.

Police said there have been six similar thefts across the town.

Inspector Chris Chammings said: “Gas pipe damage could cause leaks into a building and even an unexpected gas explosion. It’s extremely dangerous to public safety for someone to commit an offence of this nature.

“The risk of explosion or breathing in gas is huge and one of the incidents was reported to us after the resident could smell gas from a broken pipe coming through their window.

“It is a stupid and dangerous offence and we would ask that anyone who is offered second hand copper piping to buy contacts us as soon as possible.”

Paul Steele, assistant neighbourhood caretaker at Charlotte Court, which is owned by Selwood Housing, said: “The pipes have gas running through them, so it’s incredibly dangerous.

“It’s a crazy and stupid thing to do, but they will do these things. It’s a threat to life and it doesn’t take much to set gas alight. It could have been a disaster. The problem now is making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

A Trowbridge fire crew attended the incident at York Buildings in Timbrell Street at 7.05am to make it safe and isolate the gas main, with the gas board also called.

Resident Julian Harris, who was one of the residents affected in Timbrell Street, said: “It was lucky we didn’t get killed. I could smell a really strong smell of gas and for the cost of copper it is stupid and dangerous.”

Copper gas pipes were also stolen from properties in Semington Road and King Street, Melksham, on Sunday. Witnesses can contact police 101.