Warning over fuel oil thefts in East Anglia
Rural homes and businesses were urged to protect valuable supplies of heating oil after insurers reported a substantial rise in theft claims across the region.
Rising fuel prices have made heating oil an attractive target for thieves, with some tanks capable of holding stocks worth thousands of pounds.
Insurance firm NFU Mutual said the number of claims for oil theft doubled in the first six months of this year – with the East of England the worst-hit region.
Norfolk Constabulary's figures show that although there was a 35pc rise in reported thefts during the first six months of this year, the figures evened out by the end of 2011, with 187 reports so far compared to 186 in 2010.
In Suffolk, the upward regional trend was more pronounced, with 115 reported incidents until December 4 this year, compared to 93 throughout the same period in 2010.
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Officers in Norfolk credited the county's relatively stable figures to an ongoing public awareness campaign – but warned that vigilance was still needed to safeguard valuable fuel oil during the winter.
Det Sgt Pete Jessop, from Norfolk police's Operation Radar team said: 'You wouldn't leave a bucket with �50 notes in your back garden, but effectively that's what people are doing if they don't protect their fuel tanks.
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'We are reminding people there are precautions they can take against thefts. They can reinforce it, disguise it, put lights on it – but they have to protect it because everyone is a potential victim.
'In particular, businesses and schools which are closed over the Christmas period need to make sure they are aware of what they have got in their tanks.'
NFU Mutual's report says the cost of dealing with fuel thefts had also soared, partly due to the expense of cleaning up soil and groundwater contamination leaking from oil tanks damaged by thieves.
The police's crime prevention advice includes:
?Check oil levels frequently, and consider an electronic gauge which sets off an alarm if the oil level suddenly drops.
?Fit a good quality locking device to secure all fuel tanks.
?Consider perimeter security for the whole tank, such as a metal cage, fencing or even a prickly hedge.
?Position your oil tank to allow maximum view from your property – this may discourage passing thieves.
?Consider dusk to dawn lighting around the tank so you can see and anyone can be seen.
The most recent reported heating oil theft in Norfolk was on November 30, when 300 litres were stolen from a garden tank on Hillside at East Barsham, near Fakenham.
Officers asked anyone who saw any suspicious activity or vehicles in the area between 10.30am and 5.30pm to contact Fakenham Safer Neighbourhood Team on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
?For information on a free crime prevention survey, contact Norfolk police on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0845 456 4567.