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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

Petrol stations are suffering from bilking attacks

Petrol stations across Wales are suffering from bilking attacks

Drive-aways, make-offs or bilking – the crime goes by a number of names, but the reality is that fuel thefts from petrol stations are costing a fortune.

Hari Patel should know – he owns two garages in Cardiff, “It costs from fifteen hundred pounds a year for two of my sites,” he says.

“At the beginning of the year, it starts with one drive-off a month, coming towards Christmas it mounts up to one a week.” he added.

Garages normally have extensive CCTV systems, but on their own they are not enough to deter the thieves. That’s because many of the criminals are now using stolen or false number plates on their own cars.

Hari told X-Ray: “They come with number plates covered, they come with the number plates made up. They stick the number plates on, break the number plates. They’ll try anything.”

University lecturer Mike Biddulph is one of the victims. A few months ago he had his number plate stolen from right outside his home.

He says: “The police rang me up and asked me if I’d driven through a petrol station without paying. And I said no I hadn’t and they pointed out to me that a car with my number plates had driven through this petrol station and they described a car that wasn’t my car.”

Mike immediately went to check his car. The thieves had simply pulled off his number plates and then stuck them on their own vehicle.

“It was a bit of a shock. You just assume that your number plates are on your car, and I had never had to think about the implications of losing them.”
 
The police accepted that Mike’s number plates had been stolen, but warned him of the long-term implications.

“They explained that we might be pulled over because our number plates might pop up on the system somewhere,” Mike says.

X-Ray spoke to the four Welsh police forces, and they told us that last year there were just over 2000 drive-away fuel thefts from garages. The AA estimates 40,000 UK motorists had their number plates stolen off their car last year. A figure that’s doubled in the last five years.

Alan Rice-Smith, a former Scotland Yard detective, has set up a business to protect motorists from having their number plate stolen or cloned. 

He says petrol thefts are just the tip of the iceberg, “People will use stolen number plates for all sorts of crimes and they can be quite serious.  Very prevalent is the theft of petrol from garages. But then without any concerns they can go about incurring parking fines, speeding fines, even congestion charge fines.”

There are a number of anti-theft devices on the market which could help. All of them are designed to make it impossible for a thief to make a quick getaway with your plates.

Alan says, “There are tamper proof screws that are very difficult to undo and tamper proof number plates that can be bought. If someone tries to force them from a car they smash and break up.”

One other possible solution would be to change the way we all pay for our petrol.

Hari Patel says, "We should follow what America does and charge everyone up front before they draw the petrol. All the petrol retailers should get together and say hang-on a minute, that's the end of the story."

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