Thieves steal 35,000 litres of diesel from commercial sites across West Norfolk in just two weeks

THIEVES have taken 35,000 litres of diesel from commercial premises in West Norfolk over the last fortnight.

The figures have been revealed as police work on Operation Tank, launched this week to target criminals who operate in rural areas.

Officers have been focusing their operation in South West Norfolk, the Wisbech and Cambridgeshire borders and along the A17 corridor.

The focus is on heating oil, diesel and scrap metal and over the last year there have been more than 100 thefts of heating oil in the area.

The figure always rises during the winter months and with a minimum delivery of 500 litres now costing more than �300, it can cost households dear.

The average tank holds around �700 of oil and the cost of replacing that can be a real struggle - coupled with the loss of heating and hot water and the trouble of arranging for a new delivery.

Supt Dave Marshall said: “Smaller tanks of fuel at homes have been targeted for thefts in the past, however we have also seen an increase in thefts taking place at industrial premises where often larger amounts of oil and diesel are stored.

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“Ultimately the viability of businesses and jobs are at risk when businesses have to incur costs of replacing fuel, especially when business are struggling with difficulties in the economy.

“The cost of crime is usually eventually borne by the customer through higher prices for goods, so if we can work with companies as well as householders to reduce thefts then we can hopefully reduce costs to those on tight budgets.”

Vehicles and farm machinery are also being targeted and the vast majority of victims are commercial properties, but single domestic vehicles are also being taken.

Supt Marshall said scrap metal theft often went hand-in-hand with oil and diesel thefts and Operation Tank coincides with the new scrap metal legislation in force.

The initiative will involve extra resources, including special constables, and extra patrols across the affected areas. PCSOs will be visiting previous victims and offering further home security advice, including specially designed crime prevention packs.

Officers will also be conducting roadside checks and pro-active stops of vehicles, working with partner agencies, including neighbouring police forces.

Fuel tanks in some vehicles will be dipped, to identify the use of red diesel which is much cheaper but only intended for agricultural or industrial use. If red diesel is discovered, the vehicle can be seized and a �400 fine issued.

“We know that it is a big issue for rural communities and we will aim to make them feel safe and help them secure their property,” said Supt Marshall.

“By targeting those that steal and those that buy stolen property we will hopefully drive down the market and people will start to see a big difference.

“A lot of this is about vigilance, we need to know if you spot suspicious vehicles in and around your area, noting registration numbers and details of vehicles is always a great help to us. We would always rather you called us than become a victim of crime.”

Anyone who spots anything suspicious can call 101 or 999 if a crime is in progress.