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Organised gangs stealing fuel on 'industrial scale' MORE THAN PS50,000 WORTH TAKEN FROM ONE FORECOURT.

Byline: BRENDAN HUGHES brendan.hughes@walesonline.co.uk

ORGANISED gangs are stealing fuel from petrol stations Wales on an "industrial scale" with thousands of motorists fleeing forecourts without paying, new figures have shown.

Statistics obtained by the Western Mail show almost 8,000 fuel thefts have taken place at petrol stations across Wales since 2009.

More than PS50,000 worth of fuel was stolen from one petrol station forecourt in Caerphilly alone while, in another theft, more than PS30,000 of fuel was taken from a Newport garage.

It is understood organised gangs operating across the UK pose as legitimate companies to target garages and steal huge quantities of fuel.

Experts say the thieves rip the tops off petrol pumps before syphoning gallons of fuel into large industrial tankers.

They target secluded garages after closing time and monitor delivery tankers before visiting the petrol stations to ensure they are not disturbed during the thefts.

Several convictions have been made across Britain for large-scale fuel thefts. Three men were jailed for more than eight years in 2011 after admitting conspiracy to steal thousands of pounds worth of fuel from petrol forecourts in the English Midlands.

Brian Madderson, the Retail Motor Industry federation (RMI) petrol chairman, said the problem of petrol station fuel thefts in Wales was "alarming".

He said large-scale thefts were most likely to happen at non-24 hour garages, and usually involved criminal gangs using huge rigid tankers.

"They choose sites which don't open for fuel through the night and what they do is they rip off the tops of the entire pumps to the pipes and just put a hose down and suck it out - it's as crude as that," said Mr Madderson.

Across three of Wales' police forces, a total of 7,895 petrol station fuel thefts were recorded since 2009.

The highest number of reports was in the South Wales Police area, where 4,982 forecourt fuel thefts were reported to officers.

Dyfed-Powys Police said it was unable to respond to the request for information within the statutory time period.

Gwent Police reports reveal thieves stole PS50,044.96 of fuel from one Caerphilly garage in October 2009, while PS30,020 of fuel was taken from a Newport forecourt in the same year.

Police in Cardiff have recorded 1,742 incidents of motorists fleeing city garages without paying for their petrol or diesel between 2008 and 2010.

But despite the large number of thefts in Cardiff only 88 have been punished - just 5%.

The figures come as the UK Government plans to increase fuel duty by 3p per litre in January. Garage workers and campaigners fear the planned new year price hike will convince more cash-strapped motorists to flee forecourts without paying.

Ruvan Nadarasa, who works as a sales assistant at the Costcutter garage on Sloper Road, Cardiff, said about PS100 in fuel was stolen every week.

The 29-year-old said he believed the price of fuel was encouraging people to drive off without paying.

He said: "Sometimes their number plates are dodgy. Many people leave their details but never come back to pay."

Mr Madderson said RMI members were reporting that fuel thefts were "on the increase".

He said: "We are saying to the Government this is just completely unsustainable. It will increase the level of forecourt crime, it will increase inflation, and it will further reduce the volume of fuel being used and put the squeeze onto the independent forecourts." Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said: "It is fairly well chronicled that motorists are struggling and that acquisitive crime increases when people struggle. The interesting area is the theft on a near industrial scale - where the fuel must somehow be sold on."

He added: "Fuel theft really only affects car drivers through increased fuel prices. Retailers only make 2-6p a litre so if someone makes off with a tank-full they have to recoup the lost money somewhere, and that somewhere is the paying customer.

"Tighter control on who can buy is the answer - giving a credit card imprint or paying before you fill. Both however cause hassle - two trips to the kiosk or making sure you've room in the tank for what you've paid for."

Meanwhile the figures, obtained under Freedom of Information requests, come as AA figures show Treasury receipts from fuel duty are on course to match last year's total despite the 20-month freeze on fuel duty.

The AA said that in the financial year 2011/12, Revenue and Customs statistics showed that the Treasury received PS26.80bn from fuel duty.

This was 1.7% below the record of PS27.26 bn set the year before.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 3, 2012
Words:776
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