- EXCLUSIVE: Two gangs have been filmed warring at a petrol station
- Bosses say organised gangs are stealing thousands of pounds of fuel a year
This is the shocking moment two rival gangs are caught on CCTV attacking each other with machetes and metal bars in the forecourt of a petrol station.
The shocking scene ended with one of the gang members using his car as a battering ram before driving dangerously off into the road with his front lights hanging off the bonnet.
It is just the latest example of violence and disorder at UK petrol stations which firm bosses have likened to the Wild West with organised crime gangs carrying out fuel thefts on a daily basis.
Hemant Tandon, Operations Director at Park Garage Group Plc, says criminals are using false number plates to commit drive-off thefts costing him £10,000 per year.
He claims this has also led to an increase in violent incidents on petrol station forecourts.
In one instance, at one of the company’s garages in Dudley, West Midlands, a man in a silver car – thought to be a gang member – was caught on CCTV pulling out a machete as his accomplice made off with a tank of fuel without paying.
Another man, understood to be a rival gang member, could be seen smashing one of the vehicle’s headlights with a metal bar.
Hemant, 33, said: ‘In the past, staff have tried to stop drive-offs and they’ve been seriously injured.
‘We tell our staff that if they do see a theft, to just leave it. It’s not worth putting your life on the line.
‘Do people pull out machetes every day? No. But that’s the level it can get to.
‘Our staff shouldn’t have to deal with violence when they come into work.’
Figures released by the RAC Foundation found there were 39,563 fuel thefts between July and September this year – a 77 per cent rise from the same period last year, which saw 22,335 incidents.
This is four times the total number of incidents during the same time in 2019, which stood at 8,558.
Most of the thefts are understood to be drive-offs, also known as bilking, when someone fills up their vehicle without paying and leaves.
The British Oil Security Syndicate, a not-for-profit organisation which campaigns to reduce crime on forecourts, estimates these incidents cost petrol stations an average of £10,500 each per year.
But Hemant claims police refuse to intervene unless the value of the stolen fuel is over £200.
He said: ‘These are clearly organised crime groups – they know what they’re doing because they’re using false number plates.
‘They know how to play the system and they know that as long as they’re not physically caught stealing fuel, they can get away with it.
‘It’s happening on a daily basis and it’s costing us about £10,000 a year on average.
‘But the police have told us they will only intervene if it’s over £200.
‘If these criminals keep stealing £30 worth of fuel here and there across different sites, it’s easy and it becomes profitable for them.
‘Ironically, the law says if you drive off without paying for fuel, you can get a two-year prison sentence or a maximum unlimited fine, but I’ve never heard of this being implemented.
‘The system is not fit for purpose. There’s no deterrent.’
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Hemant, whose business is based in Croydon, south London, says the cost-of-living crisis has contributed to the rise in thefts in the last 18 months, but he believes the majority are being committed by organised crime groups.
In a bid to catch thieves, Hemant has installed VARS technology at Park & Shop’s worst affected forecourts.
The number-plate recognition system picks up each vehicle that arrives or leaves a site.
If an operator notices a motorist leaving without paying, they can blacklist the vehicle, which sends an audible or visual alert to the garage the next time they drive onto the site.
It also sends a letter to the home address of the vehicle owner warning them they have been caught on camera and advising them to pay for the fuel.
But while Park Garage Group uses VARS, not all petrol stations can afford to implement it – and the technology cannot help to identify vehicles with false plates.
Hemant added: ‘We’re living in a difficult world at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis. The prices of everything are sky high – not just fuel, but also the likes of food.
‘So, there are people who will risk not paying for their fuel, and they typically keep doing it until they get caught, but then they will probably stop when they get a letter. From that perspective, VARS is really good.
‘But with the cost of this technology, you’re essentially spending money to claim your own money back.
‘A lot of forecourts don’t have the technology, so criminals know which sites to target.
‘And I really don’t know how you work around the false number plates. It’s an impossible situation.’
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said forces will be supporting fuel providers and organisations in a bid to tackle the rise in thefts.
A spokesperson said: ‘Forces will be having regular interactions with commercial providers and organisations, including petrol stations, relating to the security of their sites, and will be working with them to make it harder for criminals to commit this type of offence.
‘There can be difficulties in investigating these types of incidents, especially when the nature and circumstance of each incident can be different.
‘However, where sufficient evidence is obtained to show that a crime has been committed, forces will act promptly to make sure the offender is caught and prosecuted.’