THIEVES are costing taxpayers a fortune in Huddersfield by stealing cast iron gully grates from roadsides.
They then sell each one for scrap for between just £1 and £3 - yet they cost £200 each to replace.
The grates allow rainwater to pour off the road surface, but if they are missing there is always the danger that a cyclist could hit the hole and be thrown off or an unwary pedestrian could be injured stepping into the hole.
Police say there has also been a spate of similar thefts in Calderdale and have issued a description of one suspect.
So far this year thieves have stolen about 60 gully grates in Huddersfield. They will cost £12,000 to replace.
Yet the thieves won't have got any more than £200 scrap value for the lot. The Colne Valley has been hardest hit, with grates stolen from Scapegoat Hill, Marsden, Slaithwaite, Golcar and Paddock.
Birkby has also fallen victim to the thieves.
Clr Martyn Bolt, the Kirklees Cabinet member responsible for the environment and transport, said: "The danger to road users is obvious.
"If a cyclist catches one with the front wheel they could be thrown underneath passing vehicles and be killed.
"If pedestrians step into the hole where a grate should be they could end up with serious injuries, such as broken legs.
"This is a major safety issue."
Det Con Geraldine Joyce, of Kirklees CID Intelligence Unit, said: "Two men are suspected of carrying out similar thefts in Calderdale. One is thought to be called Phil, aged 40 to 50 with dark, curly, collar-length hair and wearing glasses.
"We'd like to hear from anyone who can give us more information about him."
Kirklees highways department's senior engineer, Ian Boocock, said: "We would urge people to let us know as soon as they spot a missing grate. We will replace it as quickly as we can."
The grates are in different sizes and shapes, so workmen cut tough plastic ones as stop-gap measures before replacing them with cast iron ones later.
Mr Boocock added: "The price of scrap has gone up and these grates are very heavy cast iron.
"We suspect only a handful of people are committing the thefts."
Council staff have written to scrap and metal waste dealers alerting them to the problem and urging them to be vigilant against thieves trying to sell them stolen grates.
If anyone spots grates being stolen they should make a note of the vehicle's number, its make and model, along with a description of the thieves, then dial 999.
Alternatively, anyone who knows the suspect called Phil or anyone else who may be responsible for the thefts should contact Det Con Joyce on 01484 436575.
If anyone spots a hole where a gully grate has been stolen they should contact Kirklees Highways direct on 0800 731 8765.