BRAZEN thieves are cashing in on rocketing prices at the pumps by drilling holes in the fuel tanks of cars and selling on petrol.
Detectives have seen a huge increase in thefts from cars in the Peterlee area, with 54 recorded in the last two months.
But there were a worrying number of fuel thefts – nine involving crooks either drilling holes into tanks or syphoning petrol from caps.
Police are blaming the rising costs of petrol and say the culprits are selling it on to hard-hit motorists who can no longer afford to fill up at the pumps.
Detective Sergeant Amanda Howe, of Peterlee CID, said: “Fuel is so expensive, I think people are trying to do whatever they can to get it.
“They are probably selling it on. But that’s not to say people are not keeping it for themselves, syphoning off a few petrol tanks and getting their supply for the month.
“I do think the rise of fuel costs has had a big impact, as people can’t afford fuel so they go and steal other people’s.”
Officers believe that as a result drivers could run out of fuel and come to a sudden stop on roads which could lead to accidents.
They fear the impact could be even worse should the sudden loss of fuel occur on a motorway.
A recent incident involved a car being targeted in Eastdene Way, in Peterlee, between May 25 and May 27.
This saw the jubilee clip from the car’s petrol tank and hose removed in order for the thief to get the petrol. Det Sgt Howe added that a previous spate of fuel thefts from wagons parked in laybys on the A19 had been reduced thanks to increased awareness and signage that was placed at the site warning drivers of the thefts.
She urged motorists to be vigilant and to watch out for anything suspicious around their car, including patches of petrol.
Anyone with information about fuel thefts should call Peterlee CID on 101 or Crimestoppers on 08000 555111.