Thames Water has hired a team of detectives to track down thieves stealing water from its pipe network.
It brought in the squad following a dramatic spike in water theft – unauthorised connections have skyrocketed from 33 in 2011 to 734 last year.
Currently, any unaccounted-for water is classed as leakage in end-of-year performance tables, which Thames Water is hoping to improve.
Led by former Surrey police detective Stuart Orchard, the team is patrolling London and the Thames Valley to find and if necessary, prosecute the thieves.
Mr Orchard said: “We’re not out to get people but it’s against the law to find our water mains and illegally connect to our network.
“Thousands of litres of drinking water are lost every day. Therefore, to help protect water supplies for future generations and gain a greater control of our network, it’s vitally important we find and stop the people doing this.”
Last month, cleaning firm Hydro Cleansing pleaded guilty to 18 offences in Croydon and Reading under the Water Industry Act 1991 after illegally connecting standpipes to the network – and was ordered to pay almost £15,000 in fines and costs.
The team took Kilgannon Street Care to court last September after they were seen to be connecting an unlicensed standpipe to a fire hydrant in Battersea on four occasions – and using thousands of litres to clean the streets.
The firm’s director admitted to 12 offences and was ordered to pay more than £5,000 in fines and costs.