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Norfolk police lead national fight against heating oil thieves

PUBLISHED: 15:06 25 November 2018

Oil drums found this month in the back of the vehicle near King's Lynn. Picture: Norfolk Police

Oil drums found this month in the back of the vehicle near King's Lynn. Picture: Norfolk Police

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Norfolk Police are set to lead a national campaign warning homeowners and businesses to be vigilant against thieves stealing heating oil.

Operation Randall targets rural crinme across Norfolk and its officers are leading a national campaign against oil thefts. Picture: Chris BishopOperation Randall targets rural crinme across Norfolk and its officers are leading a national campaign against oil thefts. Picture: Chris Bishop

The start of winter sees a spike in thefts of valuable oil as tanks are at their fullest as people prepare for the start of the cold weather months.

Norfolk has already seen 85 thefts so far this year, the majority in the cold months at the start of the year. In March Reedham Primary School was forced to close after heating oil was stolen from its storage tank.

However there have been 17 thefts reported more recently and police are urging people with heating oil tanks to be vigilant and take precautions.

Earlier this month a man was arrested in King’s Lynn no suspicion of going equipped to steal heating oil. Officers noticed the smell of oil from a car parked on a country road near the town and found it contained 35 empty drums.

Homeowners and business are being urged to takle extra precautions to secure their heating oil tanks which are a target for thieves in the winter months. Picture: GettyHomeowners and business are being urged to takle extra precautions to secure their heating oil tanks which are a target for thieves in the winter months. Picture: Getty

Norfolk Police is also leading a national campaign to investigate fuel thefts across the UK. Officers are working with oil suppliers and insurance companies to produce leaflets and crime prevention advice and to build up a bigger picture of the problem.

PC Dave Armstrong, of the Norfolk Police’s Operation Randall, targeting rural crime, said: “It is rural communities predominantly that suffer from heating oil theft where there is perhaps a lack of the CCTV or lighting urban areas have. Another problem is that people don’t check their tanks that often or only when they find they have run out of fuel unexpectedly. From a policing point of view that makes it very difficult to pro-actively target those responsible.

“We often have very little scenes of crime evidence. It is also very difficult to determine who fuel belongs to. Even if we found 100 gallons in a van, proving where it came from is difficult.”

Thieves often drill holes in storage tanks or siphon the fuel out. “They tend to use 25-litre containers to siphon into,” said PC Armstrong. “They are heavy but it’s a single man job, you can carry one with each arm. But it can vary from that right up to fuel bowsers holding up to 4,000 litres.”

Police officers in action as part of rural crime Operation Randall, which is targeting heating oil thieves. Picture: Miles JermyPolice officers in action as part of rural crime Operation Randall, which is targeting heating oil thieves. Picture: Miles Jermy

He urged users to padlocks tanks and install alarms to warn of a sudden drop in oil levels and report anyone trying to sell cheap oil.

“We would always advise people to report an incident of people trying to sell heating oil. If it’s a deal too good to be true you know it’s wrong.”

• People should report any suspicious activity to 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress or use Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

How to beat the oil thieves

• Check oil levels frequently to be aware if anyone has tampered with your supply, and consider an electronic oil level alarm.

• Fit a good quality locking device that will make access using bolt croppers very difficult.

• Consider perimeter security for the whole tank, such as a metal cage or fencing.

• Control switches should be located in a secure building and turned off when the tank is not in use.

• Consider external lighting around the tank or installing CCTV. Even a prickly hedge may help deter thieves.

• When installing an oil tank or repositioning it should ideally be within sight of nearby occupied buildings.

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