Fuel thefts spike at garage

Fuel pump

Fuel pump - Credit: Getty Images

A new police approach to cut down on call-outs has caused a spike in drivers stealing fuel, according to one garage boss.

The Devon and Cornwall constabulary is slashing costs, but Sidmouth Self Serve manager Chris Heslop said forecourt customers will pay the price – as ‘bilking’ culprits are pursued through the courts.

The force’s policy not to attend some suspected cases started months ago, but he said the number of drivers thinking they can get off scot-free has spiked in the last week.

“Now it’s hit the news, everyone’s thinking, ‘let’s do some bilking’,” said Mr Heslop. “It’s happened more because it [the new policy] has been advertised.

“The police are trying to get as much as they can decriminalised.

“It’s not the local bobbies’ fault – they want to help but they aren’t allowed to.”

In 2014, Devon and Cornwall Police received around 1,600 reports of a customer leaving a garage forecourt without paying for fuel.

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The force has to save £51million from its budget. Among its cost-cutting measures is that officers will no longer attend fuel thefts unless there is evidence of intent.

On many occasions, the driver had simply forgotten to pay.

Mr Heslop said that, with Sidmouth’s older residents, this is often the case – but an increase in incidents from one or two a month to six in a week had to be down to news of the policy spreading online.

He said the Woolbrook Road garage’s sister stations in Newton Abbot and Tiverton had also seen spikes in thefts since the news broke. He warned anyone tempted to make off without paying for fuel at his pumps that they have some of the best CCTV cameras available, adding: “We will be pursuing thieves through the courts – but it will be everybody else that suffers when the prices go up.”

Garages can pay to use a DVLA service to get the contact details of anyone who leaves without paying for their fuel.

If the culprit fails to pay after a letter is sent the business can take them to court.

Responding to the criticisms, Inspector Paul Searle said: “A week-on-week snapshot of bilkings does not prove an increase of this type of crime, however, since the new policy has come into place we have not seen a spike in the reporting of these types of incidents.

“This change in policy is about ensuring we prioritise calls so we can respond to the incidents that pose the greatest threat to our community, and has the full support of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.”

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