‘Common sense’ prevails as police postpone petrol theft scheme

The scheme proposed that petrol station owners traced people who had driven off the forecourt without paying for their fuel
The scheme proposed that petrol station owners traced people who had driven off the forecourt without paying for their fuel

An MLA who spent years managing a Lisburn filling station is delighted the PSNI have “postponed” plans to make retailers police their own petrol thefts.

It was revealed on Thursday that police had started pilot projects in two districts – Lisburn and Castlereagh and Ards and North Down.

The scheme made retailers themselves responsible for tracing people who drive off without paying and recouping their own losses.

UUP Lagan Valley MLA Jenny Palmer – who managed a petrol station with her husband in the city for many years – had protested that the idea would be hugely exploited by petty thieves.

“I was driving when I heard the news that the police had done a U-turn,” she said. “I am absolutely delighted they have listened to the voice of common sense.

“Hopefully we can engage with stakeholders going forward to see what can be done to tackle this problem.”

PSNI Supt Brian Kee said: “Following feedback and additional consultation with stakeholders, police in B and C district have postponed the introduction of a pilot scheme to deal with drive-offs from local petrol stations.

“Police will now discuss and review the introduction of this pilot project.”

Police had proposed that retailers would write to the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency to get information on suspects’ cars – at a cost of £2.50 per letter – and to tell them that there has been a criminal act. Retailers would then write to drivers to ask them to pay for the fuel.

Police had argued that local research indicated that 85 per cent of all reported “drive-offs” – instances where people leave the forecourt without paying for fuel – were genuine mistakes and are not crimes that require police investigation.

The police role had been to assist businesses recover a civil debt which was placing “a substantial but preventable burden” on local police.

Meanwhile, the Police Federation slammed the proposed PSNI pilot.

The organisation said it was a “a sign of policing to come” and asked “if the same leeway would now be given to shoplifters”.

Chairman, Mark Lindsay said the pilot petrol scheme is further evidence, if evidence were needed, of an under-strength and under-resourced service, which is unable to meet the demands placed upon it.

“The danger with this scheme is that it could be used by others to get away with stealing small amounts of petrol from forecourts without the prospect of being prosecuted,” he said.

The onus was on the retailer to chase up the debt even though a criminal act has been committed, which would lead to an increase in theft, he said.