The fight against criminals who fill up at petrol stations and drive off without paying has been stepped up by police – following a major rise in offences across the Fylde coast.
Official police figures reveal there were 380 fuel theft incidents across western division, which covers Blackpool and the Fylde coast, between April 2013 and March this year.
That is an increase of 126 (or 49.6 per cent) on the previous year.
There has been a slight drop of 6.3 per cent between April and July this year compared to last, but offences across the county as a whole continue to go up.
And today Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw revealed new plans have been put in place in a bid to slam the brakes on the crime.
Posters warning offenders it is a criminal offence to fill up and drive off have been put up county-wide, pre-payment pumps have been installed at hot spot locations and CCTV has been improved to make the criminals easier to identify and detect.
And as part of a new county-wide policy to ensure these measures have a positive impact, all garages have now been given the same guidance for dealing with incidents, in the hope it will speed up police investigations and help make sure the businesses recover their money.
Mr Grunshaw said: “Garages across the county were seeing more and more drive-offs – and owners clearly wanted to work more closely with the police to reduce this growing trend.
“Now, I’ve worked with the constabulary to develop a policy which will help not only businesses but also reduce demand on the police, cutting down on wasted time while hopefully ensuring more criminals are caught and brought to justice.
“Those who deliberately drive-off from petrol stations are often involved in wider criminality – it’s important procedures are put in place to give officers the best chance of successfully tracking the culprits down. This policy is an excellent example of what can be achieved when businesses and the Constabulary work together.”
The new policy encourages garages to immediately make use of the Forecourt Watch scheme to record incidents and capture evidence. Where the incident is classed as a civil dispute, garages link in with the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS) to recover the money owed.
And police processes have been streamlined to ensure officers aren’t deployed unnecessarily to incidents which turn out to be accidental.
Unless there are aggravating factors – such as the vehicle being stolen, using false plates, or deliberately avoiding CCTV – the report will be classed as “fraud” but an officer will only be deployed if payment has not been made within a specified time period.
Chief Insp Abid Khan said: “Petrol stations play a vital role in the lives of our communities, often providing additional services to support to them.
“To have them targeted by those who do not wish to do what everyone else is expected to, and pay for their fuel, is unacceptable and we will target these people wherever it is appropriate to do so.”