Experts have suggested that the rise in fuel thefts could be as a result of ‘systematic criminal activity’

The number of fuel thefts from filling stations in Britain has soared in recent months, according to new research.

Between July and September, forecourt owners around the UK attempted to trace offenders over 39,563 incidents.

The data, from the RAC Foundation, reported that this was a staggering 77 per cent increase compared to the same period last year when 22,335 incidents took place.

Shockingly, it is a more than fourfold increase compared to the total number of incidents seen during the same time in 2019 (8,558).

Experts including the RAC Foundation have suggested that the rise in fuel thefts could be as a result of “systematic criminal activity”.

The data relates to the number of requests made to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for vehicle keeper data regarding fuel theft.

The majority of incidents are believed to be in relation to drive-offs, also known as “bilking”.

This is where a motorist pulls up to the forecourt without any intention of paying, filling up and leaving without purchasing the fuel.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said it was “no surprise” that fuel thefts from forecourts were increasing given the media attention to the epidemic of shoplifting.

He warned that it could grow into a larger problem, and that the data might only point to a much bigger issue.

The expert added: “While it may be that the cost-of-living crisis is tempting some people to risk driving off without paying, the real headache for fuel suppliers is if this is a sign of more systematic criminal activity.

“The message to anyone tempted to bilk the service station must be ‘Don’t fill up if you can’t pay up’ because getting caught is a real possibility, and financial losses to companies ultimately lead to higher prices for us all.”

Drivers who are caught stealing fuel from forecourts could be hit with two years in prison and the potential for an unlimited fine under the Theft Act 1978.

The British Oil Security Syndicate estimates that thefts cost filling stations an average of £10,500 each per year.

BOSS, which campaigns to reduce crime on forecourts, has recovered more than £35million every year on behalf of forecourt operators.

Data from the Forecourt Crime Index found that incidents of petrol station issues reached their highest level since 2015, with a 1.3 per cent increase in unpaid fuel.

When petrol and diesel prices were at their highest level last summer, data found that forecourts would face up to 3,000 attempted fuel thefts a month.

Petrol drivers were facing costs of £1.90, while diesel motorists were narrowly avoiding paying £2 per litre, with many suggesting this was a factor for vehicles driving off without paying.

Figures published at the time, by Forecourt Eye, a company that processes payments on behalf of around 1,000 garages, found there was a 39 per cent increase between January and May.

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