Criminals are dicing with death and putting homes and offices at risk of explosion by stealing gas meters.
Three meters have been ripped from the walls of properties in the Riverside and West Shields areas within the last few days.
It is thought thieves could be taking them to attach to their own gas supply in order to give false readings in a bid to avoid paying bills.
Neighbourhood Inspector Peter Sutton said: “This type of theft is particularly alarming, as not only are the thieves putting themselves at serious risk of harm, they are also putting people’s lives in jeopardy.
“Tampering with gas supplies and meters is extremely dangerous, as it can pose a risk of explosion.
“Officers are doing all we can to apprehend those responsible, and would encourage anyone with information on who is carrying out these thefts to contact us immediately, so we can put a stop to this before someone gets hurt.” A spokeswoman for Northern Gas Networks, which looks after the gas supply in the North East, said: “Interfering with gas meters or gas pipes has potentially serious safety implications.
“It is never, ever worth the risk. Gas appliances should always be fitted, repaired and serviced by a Gas Safe-registered engineer.
“If you smell gas or are worried about gas safety, you can call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999 at any time, day or night every day of the year.”
Police are urging anyone with information or sees anyone acting suspicious around properties to contact them on 101.