A SUCCESSFUL scheme to stop motorists filling up their cars and driving off without paying for fuel has been rolled out in West Oxfordshire.

Cherwell police launched the Forecourt Watch initiative in 2012 after receiving a £10,896 grant from the Government’s Community Action Against Crime Innovation Fund.

They have since seen an overall 46 per cent drop in ‘bilking’.

In the first six months of the scheme the number of incidents dropped from 79 to 32.

Bilking is the term used by police for people who fill up their car and drive off without paying.

Now all 16 garages in West Oxfordshire have signed up to the scheme after the local crime partnership received a £5,448 Government grant to replicate the work done in Cherwell.

The scheme works alongside the Vehicle Identity Protection Scheme (VIPS) which targets number plate thefts.

Motorists who drive off without paying are either captured on garage CCTV cameras or staff note down vehicle number plates.

Sgt Kevin Tobin then takes over and sends out letters to drivers asking if they had forgotten to pay.

He said: “Myself and the support team check registration numbers and if they have been involved in drive-offs before that tends to indicate dishonesty and we deal with it as a crime.

“If it’s possible that they have filled up with petrol and then bought shopping and forgotten to pay for the fuel, we send a letter.

“I’m getting on average 25 to 35 people pay the money back each month.

“The ones who don’t pay we follow up with an interview and they could end up with a caution or go to court. We don’t just leave it.”

He said in each case there was no pattern to people’s reasons for “forgetting” to pay.

All garages in Cherwell and West Oxfordshire, totalling 38, have now signed up to Forecourt Watch.

It works by linking premises through a radio system direct to police.

Garages are also alerted to details of stolen number plates and police stations give away anti-theft number plate screws.

Sgt Tobin said: “We have seen a positive result overall and this is due to better and increased communication between the garages and the police.

“Increased confidence in reporting and evidence of offences has led to identification of offenders and prosecutions.

“As a result of the scheme’s introduction, we are still showing a decrease in offences, despite economic pressures.

“Another benefit has been on the occasions that persons have unknowingly left the garage without payment, the scheme has resulted in these individuals returning to the garage to apologise and make full payment.”

Kevin Eastwood, executive director at British Oil Security Syndicate, which set up the Forecourt Watch scheme, said: “Theft of fuel cost UK garages more than £25m last year.

“This initiative with Thames Valley Police will help immensely.”

  • Tamper proof screws are available from police stations in Witney, Bicester, Banbury and Kidlington.