Businesses and jobs in Norfolk at risk because of fuel thieves

PUBLISHED: 08:43 08 December 2012 | UPDATED: 19:22 10 December 2012



Archant © 2012

Thieves are hitting commercial and rural premises in East Anglia to raid diesel tanks, putting the viability of smaller businesses at risk.

Across Norfolk alone there have been 264 thefts of diesel since the beginning of this year, with the highest figure, 43, recorded last month.

And figures released as part of a Freedom of Information request revealed the number of heating oil thefts in Norfolk has risen by 45pc in just two years.

According to the figures there were 147 thefts in 2009, rising to 186 in 2010 and reaching a high of 213 last year, with the majority taking place over autumn and winter.

Farms, rural businesses, churches and village halls have been targeted as well as homes.

Supt Dave Marshall, of Norfolk Police, said: “Ultimately the viability of businesses and jobs are at risk when businesses have to incur costs of replacing fuel, especially when business are struggling with difficulties in the economy.”

The figures have been revealed as police in the west of the county work on Operation Tank, launched to target criminals who operate in rural areas. They have taken 35,000 litres of the fuel from sites in west Norfolk over just the last fortnight.

The focus of Operation Tank is on heating oil, diesel and scrap metal and over the last year there have been more than 100 thefts of heating oil in the area.

The figure always rises during the winter months and with a minimum delivery of 500 litres now costing more than £300, it can cost households and businesses dear.

The average tank holds around £700 of oil and the cost of replacing that can be a real struggle – coupled with the loss of heating and hot water and the trouble of arranging for a new delivery.

“Smaller tanks of fuel at homes have been targeted for thefts in the past, however we have also seen an increase in thefts taking place at industrial premises where often larger amounts of oil and diesel are stored,” said Supt Marshall.

“The cost of crime is usually eventually borne by the customer through higher prices for goods, so if we can work with companies as well as householders to reduce thefts then we can hopefully reduce costs to those on tight budgets,” he said.

Vehicles and farm machinery are also being targeted and the vast majority of victims are commercial properties, but single domestic vehicles are also being taken.

Supt Marshall said scrap metal theft often went hand-in-hand with oil and diesel thefts and Operation Tank coincides with the new scrap metal legislation in force.

Officers have been focusing their operation in South West Norfolk, the Wisbech and Cambridgeshire borders and along the A17 corridor.

The initiative will involve extra resources, including special constables, and extra patrols across the affected areas. PCSOs will be visiting previous victims and offering further home security advice, including specially designed crime prevention packs.

Officers will also be conducting roadside checks and stops of vehicles.

Fuel tanks in some vehicles will also be dipped, to identify the use of red diesel which is much cheaper but only intended for agricultural or industrial use. If red diesel is discovered, the vehicle can be seized and a £400 fine issued.

“We know that it is a big issue for rural communities and we will aim to make them feel safe and help them secure their property. By targeting those that steal and those that buy stolen property we will hopefully drive down the market and people will start to see a big difference.

“A lot of this is about vigilance, we need to know if you spot suspicious vehicles in and around your area, noting registration numbers and details of vehicles is always a great help to us. We would always rather you called us than become a victim of crime,” added Supt Marshall

Anyone who spots anything suspicious can call 101 or 999 if a crime is in progress.

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