CRIMINALS who fuel their offending by stealing and cheating their way around the roads are the target of a new campaign.
Police in east Durham have launched the North-East’s first Forecourt Watch after a rise in the number of thefts of petrol and diesel, along with crimes involving stolen vehicle number plates.
The scheme will operate in more than 16 businesses in east Durham and Durham City and sees warnings and appeals being sent between the participating sites as they join forces to clamp down on crooks.
Customers of filling stations are also being urged to do their bit and report suspicious behaviour as well as spend just a few pounds to secure their own vehicle’s number plates using anti-theft screws.
Fuel thefts, also known as bilking, involve criminals filling up drums on back seats and in the rear of their vehicles as they top up petrol tanks.
Law enforcers hope people using nearby pumps will notice this and help stamp out the crime.
Since April last year, there have been 138 fuel thefts and 75 sets of number plates stolen in east Durham.
The campaign will see officers from Durham Police linking up with counterparts in the Northumbria and Cleveland forces to share information about suspects.
Sergeant Tracey Whelan, of Easington Safer Neighbourhood Unit, said: “We’ve seen such crimes going up, particularly in the Peterlee and Seaham areas.
“We believe this is because of the economic crisis, although we know that often these people can be linked to other crimes.”
Forecourt Watch is already operational in other areas of the country, with the scheme to be rolled out across the region over time.
Dave Young, a former sergeant with Durham Police, is now regional co-ordinator with Fighting Forecourt Crime, which is part of the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS).
He said: “The knock-on effect of this is passed on to the customer and the chances are, these people are not just stealing fuel. This costs the petrol industry £19m a year.
“Working in partnership with the police and the retailers, and if everybody plays their part, we will see a reduction through Forecourt Watch.”
Among the scheme’s backers is Ellipsis Retail Services, which runs Shell filling stations in Yoden Way, Peterlee, and both forecourts on the A19 at Hawthorn Services.
Elliott Patterson, spokesman for the company, said: “The security of our customers and staff is paramount to us and I am sure Forecourt Watch will help us cut crime.
“It will help cut costs to us, to the police and in terms of insurance to customers, and it will also give us another avenue to report crime.”
Anyone with information about incidents are asked to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.