POLICE are pumping thousands of pounds into an initiative to combat a surge in petrol thefts.

Figures show in Cherwell alone the number of people filling up their car and driving off without paying has shot up by 246 per cent.

In the six months between March and September 2011 there were 79 incidents compared with 32 in the same period in 2010, and in many cases stolen number plates were used.

Now, thanks to a £10,896 grant from the Government’s Community Action Against Crime Innovation Fund, awarded to the Cherwell Crime Partnership, police have launched Forecourt Watch to tackle the problem head-on.

So far 22 garages have signed to the scheme, which sees details of stolen number plates passed to garages as soon as they are reported.

Premises will also be part of a radio system linking them to each other and police.

Inspector Neville Clayton said: “The continual rise in fuel prices is responsible for an increase in the number of fuel thefts.

Garages in the initiative will also fit anti-theft number plates screws as part of an MOT from tomorrow, and screws will also be available free from police stations in Bicester, Banbury and Kidlington from tomorrow.

Insp Clayton said: “Most plates are stolen from vehicles parked overnight in residential areas of Banbury, Bicester, and surrounding villages.”

Antelope Nissan, Swan Close Road, Banbury, is one of the garages taking part in the initiative.

Manager Andy Huckfield said: “It will benefit us because it means we can keep in contact with other shops, and if we have got a problem, or they have, we can let each other know about it quickly.”

Across Oxfordshire there have been 317 number plates thefts between April 2011 and February 2012, compared with 326 between April 2010 to March 2011.

There were 1,146 reports os stolen fuel last year.

Cherwell crime coordinator June Lynes said the cost of petrol thefts to garages was about £22m a year, and the cost to police to investigation was spiralling.

  • For more information, see the CherwellSafe website.