'Drive offs', fake number plates and 'double tanking': ITV News uncovers spike in petrol theft

Growing numbers of forecourt thefts are putting serious pressure on businesses, as ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi has been finding out

New figures released exclusively to ITV News show a sharp rise in drivers leaving petrol forecourts without paying.

These "drive-offs" are part of a huge £100m a year problem that has been rising as petrol prices increase.

Our research reveals the criminal techniques that have become widespread - including "double tanking", where thieves carry more than one fuel container to maximise their gains.

A growing number of offenders are also using false number plates. 

The latest figures given to ITV News by the British Oil Security Syndicate show there are now around 1.5 million non-payment incidents a year - on average costing each site £7,500.

A typical "drive- off" is worth just over £50 and the average forecourt is now suffering around ten non-payment incidents a month.

Fuel prices have not returned to previous record highs but are steadily climbing again. Credit: PA

The data and CCTV obtained for our "shops and robbers" report highlight a crime wave which is having a big impact on workers, businesses and communities.

Petrol retailer Hemant Tandon told us: "To watch someone filling up on your forecourt and then essentially driving off with your hard money in their tanks is a heartbreaking feeling".

Anxious forecourt staff are not just dealing with "drive-offs" - most non-payments are people saying they have no means to pay after filling-up, leaving retailers chasing what's owed.

The AA has told us it believes more retailers will switch to payment in advance pumps in future.

However, that would drastically reduce footfall inside their shops - giving them yet another financial hit.

Many retailers we spoke to fear drivers think the crime is almost victimless, because oil companies make huge profits from fuel.

Yet many forecourts are actually run by small family firms making relatively small margins. 

Ben Lawrence who runs a petrol station says small family businesses get hit by thefts, not big oil companies. Credit: ITV News

Some industry experts predict more garages will close as a result of high crime losses, leaving some areas less well served.

A spokesperson for police chiefs told us that where evidence is obtained forces will take action against fuel thieves - but some forecourt owners want more help against these criminals that always bring a getaway car. 

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