Thieves stealing from petrol pumps are being let off by almost one in five police forces.
At least eight forces in England and Wales have stopped pursuing fuel thefts and retailers accuse them of ‘routinely ignoring the crime’.
Driving off without paying, or ‘bilking’, is increasingly downgraded to a low-level offence that officers cannot afford to respond to.
But the Petrol Retailers Association, representing 70 per cent of forecourts, says it is costing the industry £30million a year.
At least eight forces in England and Wales have stopped pursuing fuel thefts and retailers accuse them of ‘routinely ignoring the crime’
There are more than 1.6million cases a year in which motorists drive off without paying or tell station staff they have no means of payment.
This month Lincolnshire Police told forecourt managers they would no longer investigate.
An officer will now attend the crime scene only if there are aggravating factors, such as threats or violence against staff.
Although the force still records the bilking incidents, it is suggesting petrol stations use pre-payment systems and recover the cost of stolen fuel in the civil courts. A review by the force last year concluded officers were effectively ‘civil debt collectors’ because many of the offences were committed accidentally.
In a statement Lincolnshire Police said the change was not a blanket policy, but an attempt to ‘focus our limited resources’ to target real criminals.
However, Ian Cruickshank, who runs a petrol station near Grantham, said his CCTV caught a thief stealing fuel but Lincolnshire police ‘didn’t follow it up’.
He said: ‘It was clearly a theft and a blatant crime. I had clear CCTV evidence that I was being targeted by criminals. It’s infuriating.’ The 43 forces in England and Wales are prioritising crimes in the face of budget cuts. Devon and Cornwall Police were the first to stop investigating fuel theft unless there was clear criminal intent.
The Petrol Retailers Association, representing 70 per cent of forecourts, says it is costing the industry £30million a year
Leicestershire and Avon & Somerset forces also do not attend ‘routine’ bilking cases unless there are aggravating circumstances.
Staffordshire and Suffolk forces use ‘desk-based investigation’ units that respond to bilking, ‘though not necessarily in person’.
West Midlands Police said they had ‘adopted the approach of almost all other forces’, adding that a crime reported online was passed to a desk-based team.
Hampshire Constabulary said it was ‘unlikely resources would be dispatched straight away’ if the offence was simply bilking.
Brian Madderson, of the Petrol Retailers Association, told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘It’s becoming a serious problem as the police are routinely ignoring this crime.
‘Detectives regularly come to our members’ forecourts asking for CCTV to help find terrorists, serious criminals and organised gangs and we help them.
‘But, when we have a problem with petrol theft it’s, ‘‘Sorry, you’re on your own’’. It isn’t right.’
Last night a National Police Chiefs Council spokesman said: ‘Police chiefs have to judge how to use limited resources to best effect to protect the public from a range of crime and threats.’