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Crime under cover

01 November, 2010
A new type of crime is threatening forecourt businesses. Amy Lanning finds out what is being done to prevent criminals stealing fuel from underground tanks
Page 27 

Whatever retailers do to protect their businesses against crime, thieves always seem to be one step ahead with different tactics to beat them, and this summer saw a new crime come to the fore fuel thefts direct from storage tanks.

In August a Morrisons forecourt fell victim to Britain's biggest-ever fuel theft when criminals siphoned off 45,000-worth of petrol and diesel. Police believe the thieves used pneumatic drills to break into the tanks, then they siphoned off 22,000 litres of unleaded petrol and 16,000 litres of diesel.

But some manufacturers have been quick to address this new crime. Following a recent spate of fuel thefts at petrol filling storage tanks, Berrys was approached to come up with a suitable deterrent. Jacque Williams, technical director at Berrys, says: "We already supply our unique Mono chamber system to most of the majors and it was a simple procedure to incorporate a locking cover to the existing chambers."

The Berrys' security cover is of a lightweight steel construction that is installed beneath the existing tank chamber cover. It is secured to the chamber by a set of fixings that cannot be accessed without the cover being removed. The unit is locked with short-shanked security padlocks and these are positioned so that they cannot be accessed by cutting tools. The unit has a powder coated finish, with a number of inspection panels that allow for easy visual inspection of the chamber without having to actually remove the unit.

"The unit has been trialled by one major supermarket group and is now specified as a standard on new-builds and a retro-fit programme to existing sites has also been approved," says Williams. "Other supermarket groups and oil companies are also in the process of trialling this product."

The Berrys' security cover has been designed to fit other chamber systems to include Fibrelite, TCI and brick-type chambers. In the case of brick chambers, either a brief site visit or supplied dimensions would be required.

While the industry moves to trial security measures to prevent further storage tank thefts, drive-offs continue to be a huge burden on forecourt retailers.

Figures released by BOSS, the British Oil Security Syndicate, show that crime at Britain's service stations cost retailers more than 19m in 2009, with drive-off incidents accounting for 14m of the estimated total loss, and a further 3m lost from motorists claiming to have 'no means of payment' and then failing to return to clear their debt. Despite this representing a 35% lower overall loss than that recorded for 2008, the figures show that the value of fuel taken has increased in each successive quarter between quarter one of 2009 and quarter two of 2010.

In April this year, BOSS launched its No Means of Payment (NMoP) debt recovery scheme, and more than 700 sites have already signed up. The initiative enables retailers to formally document all NMoP losses, which are then pursued by a dedicated debt recovery agency in the event that the driver does not settle up within seven days.

Kevin Eastwood, executive director of BOSS, says: "Thanks to the excellent progress being made signing up retailers to this initiative and average recovery rates of about 85%, along with the established Forecourt Watch schemes, BOSS is helping more retailers than ever to deter and combat crime on forecourts.

"Forecourt Watch schemes are partnership arrangements with local police involvement that have helped to reduce the number of incidents of fuel theft and overall crime," adds Eastwood.

"By establishing efficient and productive local monitoring and reporting networks, incidents of fuel theft from service stations are reduced while police are better able to identify and apprehend suspects."

BOSS has also succeeded in lobbying at government level for changes to the way in which incidents of taking fuel without payment are recognised officially. During 2009, a campaign by BOSS resulted in the Home Office's National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) Guidelines being amended. The change altered the manner in which drive-offs should be recorded by police.

They should now be treated as crimes until investigation proves otherwise and not as civil debts, which was often the case previously.

"This development has strengthened the work BOSS does for the fuel retailing community by recognising that drive-off and no means of payment incidents, while only relatively low value in each individual case, add up to a multi-million pound problem," says Eastwood. "Fuel theft is also often just a small manifestation of far more wide-ranging criminality. By forging closer working relationships with police partners, BOSS can help to identify criminals involved in more serious, organised activity.

"Working with local police forces strengthens retailer relationships, adds another set of eyes and ears and helps to protect the service station as a valuable community asset."

Since the rise in the use of automatic number plate recognition systems, criminals have taken to stealing number plates to hide their vehicle's identity while committing a drive-off, but some police authorities are starting to tackle this with specific campaigns. For example, in mid September, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Aldborough Safer Neighbourhoods Team conducted a 'Nik Ur Reg' initiative on the forecourt of a BP/Simply Food petrol station.

As members of the public entered the store to pay for petrol they were issued with anti-theft number plate screws. More than 500 sets of screws were issued. Members of the public were also supplied with crime prevention literature advising them on the best ways to protect their vehicles. Sergeant Christopher Parkin says: "This initiative enabled officers to engage with the public as well as provide a high visibility presence to deter any drive out offences."

A massive banner on the forecourt displayed the message 'Each week there are hundreds of victims of number-plate theft. Don't let thieves N1K UR REG. Call now for information on how to get your free tamper-proof security screws'.

HTEC has been addressing drive-offs with its HydraANPR and Forecourt Protect systems. Both link to a drive-off database and check vehicle registrations for previous drive-offs/non-payments. For retailers with HTEC's HyrdaPos point of sale system, HydraANPR will also physically stop the pump if a vehicle's number plate is flagged up as having committed a drive-off.

Knight Brothers Service Station near Taunton in Devon has adopted Forecourt Protect. The site's forecourt manager Steve Dyer says: "The addition of the software ensures we are able to prevent and discourage drive-offs without payment and have already seen results. But it's not all about preventing drive-offs. In addition, we will be able to offer enhanced customer service to our regular clients," adds Steve. "We can add the number plates of our disabled customers to the database which, in turn, will alert the kiosk to go out to offer assistance as they drive on to the forecourt."


Crime prevention checklist

l Do you have an active policy of prosecuting non-payers?

l Do you display signs that tell people that you prosecute non-payers?

l Is there a petrol pump management system? For example, one that turns off outside pumps at quieter times of the day?

l Do you have online authorisation facilities for payments by card?

l Do you examine your drive-off figures for patterns in the times and frequencies of drive-offs, and do you act on them?

l What procedures do you use to vet your staff? What crime prevention/reduction training do they receive?

l Is there a reward system for staff who prevent crime?

Source: Thames Valley Police