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Raising the alarm on oil-theft trend

PUBLISHED: 09:50 15 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:51 03 July 2010

FAMILIES are being encouraged to take advantage of simple technology to help police foil the latest regional crimewave of thieves targeting heating oil.

FAMILIES are being encouraged to take advantage of simple technology to help police foil the latest regional crimewave of thieves targeting heating oil.

In the battle to stop the trend sparked by soaring fuel prices, Norfolk police crime-prevention officer PC Pat Bailey is marketing an infra-red alarm, at the non-profit price of £20, that can be fitted to walls or fences to alert householders to someone on their drive.

Fuel thieves initially targeted large tanks on farms but, as the price continues to rise, police have noticed they are increasingly stealing heating oil from smaller domestic garden tanks as well.

Across Norfolk there were nearly 50 thefts in the first three months of the year. Breckland has been the hardest hit, with 28 reported incidents.

In East Norfolk, there have been at least 10 recent reports of oil thefts from garden tanks in villages ranging from Rollesby and Martham to Halvergate and Freethorpe.

Yarmouth-based PC Bailey said that was likely to be the thin end of the wedge, with some householders not reporting raids and others even unaware there had been one.

He emphasised the significance of soaring fuel prices. “I have got oil heating at home and the 500 litres I have just had delivered cost £273, compared to £215 just before Christmas,” he said.

As well as using an infra-red alarm, he said people should think about the position of their tank and whether it was visible from the road.

The cases coming to his attention had involved the siphoning of oil but there had also been reports of thieves drilling into tanks. “Despite the number of raids, no one has so far reported seeing any suspicious vehicles even though a van must be involved. There is usually no sign of the theft and the first the householder knows about it is when their central heating stops working,” he said.

As one of the latest victims, electrician Stephen Kent, of Main Road, Billockby, near Acle, urged people to follow the crime-prevention advice. He said: “We had 500 litres of oil put in a month ago but I thought I had better check it when I saw a report about oil thefts on television last week. To my horror it was all but empty.” He admitted that because they were in a rural area they had not even bothered with a padlock, but had since fitted one.

Retired police officer Danny Cracknell, a spokeman for Norfolk Farm Watch, said: “In the past three or four months we have been getting up to three reports of fuel thefts a week, with up to 5,000 gallons being taken at a time.

“One farmer from around Hunstanton had just replaced 3,500 litres and was targeted by thieves again within a week.”

He said they were able to install wireless alarm systems which alerted farmers if someone was tampering with their tank. If farms were close together, it was possible to share an alarm system to split the cost.

Anyone interested in buying an infra-red alarm can find out more by ringing PC Bailey on 01493 333350.

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