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Merril Boulton: An explosive month for news

I don't think I'd be overstating it if I said April got off to an explosive start, literally, when thieves blew up a cashpoint on a petrol station forecourt (see CCTV footage via our website www.forecourttrader.co.uk).The blast took place at a Texaco-branded forecourt in Weyhill, Hampshire. Apparently thieves blew up the cashpoint with a home-made bomb and ran off with the cash. What were they thinking? Do they not realise there's already a potential bomb on the forecourt the underground tanks!

On the one hand it's a tribute to all the oil industry's safety regulations introduced over many years that there wasn't a far more serious outcome. But on the other hand, how scarily stupid or desperate can anyone be? It's rather like watching those unfortunate people who try to siphon petroleum products from ruptured fuel pipelines (such as in Nigeria in January). These things tend to happen in far away places not the UK. I hope it doesn't catch on!

But forecourts being a growing focus for crime was confirmed this month when BOSS revealed its latest figures for the forecourt industry. The austere times, not to mention the high cost of fuel, have led to a 31% increase in the cost of drive-offs between 2010 and 2012 to £20.4m. That doesn't include a further £4.2m lost from motorists claiming to have no means of payment who fail to return to clear their debt. Then there's the indirect cost of crime, if the experience of Norfolk petrol retailer Steve Jones is anything to go by. He became the centre of a national media frenzy last month, after revealing that he is being sued by a police woman who injured hereself on his forecourt as she investigated a burglary. Our online poll shows that many of you think such personal injury claims are a potentially growing problem for your business.

On a more positive note, much of the media and even the police chief sided with the forecourt owner in this case. Long may it continue.


As the smaller/family owned independent forecourt businesses continue to be acquired by the big operators, do you think now could be the right time for you to sell up?