A suspected petrol thief was arrested after several containers of liquid were found in his van as thefts from filling stations reached record levels amid soaring pump prices.
Traffic police detained the driver, who was allegedly high on cannabis, on the A10 dual-carriageway at Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, on Thursday.
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire (BCH) Road Policing Unit shared a picture showing 17 clear canisters - some filled with a brown liquid that police suspect is stolen fuel.
Police said the driver was in a 'cloned' vehicle, meaning that fake number plates were on the van.
In another incident on Friday, police found nine huge plastic drums in the back of a car near Canterbury, Kent.
Kent Police said they are probing links between this vehicle and reports of fuel stolen from a lorry park on the outskirts of Canterbury on Thursday.
A 30-year-old man from the city was arrested on suspicion of going equipped for the theft and the plastic containers were seized, police said.
It comes as the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) said drive-off incidents – where a motorist fills up and makes no attempt to pay before leaving – have increased by 61% so far this year, compared with the same period in 2021.
PRA executive director Gordon Balmer described the thefts as “going through the roof” with “10 incidents a day” reported.
He said that retailers will lose £25 million if the current rate of drive-offs continues for the next 12 months.
Incidents of drivers claiming to be unable to pay for fuel they have already put in their vehicle – such as by forgetting their wallet – have also risen, reaching an annual cost to the sector of £16 million.
“You’re looking at nearly £41 million in terms of cost to industry of fuel either being stolen through drive-offs or people haven’t got the means to pay,” Mr Balmer said.
“It’s a really difficult issue at the moment, and on the increase.”
Asked whether retailers are receiving enough support from the police, he said: “With the pressure on the police over the last few years, many police forces have said ‘It’s not a criminal offence, it’s a civil offence, so you need you need to deal with it, and if the actual value of the crime is below £100 then we won’t send anyone out to police it’.
“This has been raised by myself personally with the Home Office.”
Figures from data firm Experian show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a new high of 191.2p on Tuesday.
The average price of diesel was 199.0p per litre, a fraction of a penny below the record of 199.1p per litre set on Saturday.
This led motoring groups to accuse retailers of refusing to pass on recent 5p-per-litre cut in fuel duty.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs on Tuesday that he will carefully consider calls for a “more substantial” fuel duty cut.
Amid concerns the previous reduction “didn’t really touch the sides” for hard-pressed drivers, he said when challenged in the House of Commons that he will take the recommendations “under advisement”.