Police aim to cut down petrol station drive offs
Police are working with forecourt garage owners to reduce the number of so-called "bilkings" in Oxfordshire and reduce the number of crimes that last year was worth £133,000.
In 2005 there were just over 5000 incidents where motorists drive off without paying for their fuel. So far in 2006 there have been 3135 incidents.
But despite the fall police are still keen to get the message through that drivers have an obligation to pay for fuel and that the chances of being traced are high.
The Force is working with petrol stations across the region to crack down on the number of fuel thefts that in 2005 was worth £133,140 in the Thames Valley.
Thus far in north Oxfordshire there have been 178 reported thefts of fuel from petrol stations with the average loss being £26.52.
PC Diane Blackmore-Heal, who investigates bilkings in Cherwell LPA, said: "We have made great strides in reducing the number of drive off thefts of petrol but there are a minority of people who do not understand that not paying for their fuel is theft. They have to declare whether thy have taken any fuel.
"There will be a full investigation and someone could be arrested even if they say they made a mistake.
"They will be visited by a uniformed officer and could find their vehicle details being put on police computers.
"Some people make a genuine mistake and forget to pay for their fuel. We accept mistakes can happen but it does waste time and diverts an officer from investigating real crime and we want to reduce this number even further."
In a recent case a man who pleaded not guilty to making off without payment was fined £100 plus £200 court costs as well as being ordered to pay £39 compensation.
Chief Superintendent Shaun Morley, Oxfordshire Police Commander, said: "Driving off without paying for fuel is straightforward theft.
"The cost to businesses is substantial and ordinary decent motorists pay the price.
"There is a small number of people who clearly think that if they drive off they cannot be found and that will be the end of it. It is not the end of it. For the police it is the beginning of a criminal investigation.
"We have been working with forecourt managers for a while now. That work is starting to pay off but we have to get the message through to a small number of people that if you drive off without paying it is not a victimless crime and we can and will investigate it and track you down."
Police have been working with petrol station forecourt managers to introduce ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) technology which has dramatically cut the number of so-called drive-offs. Some stations now have cameras that record the registration of a vehicle and will not allow fuel to be put into a car until the registration plate has been recorded.
Kevin Eastwood, chief executive of the industry press group BOSS (British Oil Security Syndicate), said: "From our statistics, total industry losses for 2005 are estimated at £26.2m.
"Of this amount, 66 per cent is due to drive-offs or bilking. Prolific drive-off offenders are invariably just the visible tip of a far larger 'crime iceberg' and are usually wanted by police for other criminal offences.
By working closely with petrol retailers, police can reduce this and other crimes as well."
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