The use of the Nepalese ex-soldiers was the latest evidence of the havoc being wrought by the criminal gangs who have targeted railway track, war memorials and churches over the past year.
Mounting concern was reflected in the Commons where David Cameron said he was determined to put a stop to “this really appalling crime”.
The Prime Minister added: “The theft of metal, particularly from war memorials, is an absolutely sickening and disgusting crime.”
It is understood that the retired Gurkhas, who work for the security firm G4S, are being used to protect ‘hot spots” in north east England which have been particularly badly hit by the gangs.
G4S Gurkha Services, which employs more than 600 ex-servicemen, is an offshoot of one of the country’s leading private security firms and offers what it describes as “an enhanced strategic military solution” specialising in defending what is deemed to be “Critical National Infrastructure”
“We use Gurkhas because of their commitment, vigilance and robustness,” said John Whitwam, managing director of G4S Gurkha Services.
“We employ them in teams which mirrors the hierarchy which they experienced in the army. We think they are an appropriate response to a situation which is only now being understood.”
The use of the Gurkhas, who all have at least 15 years military service, was revealed during Prime Minister’s Questions by Jason McCartney, the Tory MP Colne Valley.
“Cable theft has cost the rail industry £43 million over the last three years and they have even drafted in Gurkhas to patrol the network,” he said.
“Meanwhile, homes and churches are being pilfered of their lead and copper and in the past month one churchyard in Huddersfield had 169 memorial plaques stolen for its metal,” he told fellow MPs.
“Now is the time to legislate to stop these stolen metals going to merchants.”
Speaking afterwards he added that thieves in his area had also stolen manhole covers, grates from coal cellars and even a lightning rod from a church.
“It is wrecking people’s lives, it is truly and utterly awful.”