“MOTORISTS’ lives were put at risk” - those are the words of a Hampshire contractor after a set of traffic lights was put out of action when thieves stole the batteries.

It is the latest in a series of thefts which have affected roadworks up and down the country, including West Sussex, Devon, Somerset, Nottingham, Wolverhampton and Leicester.

Thieves made off with 16 heavy-duty batteries which had been powering temporary lights on roadwork sites on the A3051 in Curbridge , outside the Horse and Jockey pub, and on the B3035 in nearby Curdridge.

The incident, between midnight and 7am yesterday, left drivers facing traffic chaos until workmen arrived at the sites.

The 12-volt batteries each weigh about 25kg and belong to Shedfield-based Lockhams Construction, which has been contracted to work on the site by Hampshire County Council.

Managing director Conrad Collins said that the theft has cost the firm £5,000. He believes that the batteries were taken to be sold for scrap.

He said: “I’m angry at the thieves, and we’re so vulnerable because the lights will be up for quite a number of weeks and the police can only drive by so often.

“They have put lives at risk because there are holes in the road and when there are no lights there is a potential for a head-on collision as motorists drive around the roadworks.”

The landlady of the Horse and Jockey pub, Jen Fletcher, said: “It’s a really bad road anyway, and I’m surprised we didn’t have any accidents there last night. We have a lot of accidents here – it’s quite a narrow carriageway.”

A Crimestoppers spokesman said: “Stealing the batteries from temporary traffic lights is a costly, disruptive and dangerous crime.”

Anyone with any information should call Hampshire Constabulary on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.