Police have announced a special operation to target oil thieves following a spate of thefts in Richmondshire and other rural parts of the county.
In the first half of the year alone, officers dealt with 71 reports of oil thefts across the county – an average of a theft every two to three days.
Richmondshire and Hambleton were the worst hit areas with 16 incidents each.
Some left residents and businesses thousands of pounds out of pocket.
For others the stakes are were even higher, including a woman in her 90s who was left without fuel to heat her rural home after thieves drained her heating oil tank.
Heating oil, cooking oil and vehicle fuel are all being targeted, often by criminals who enter the county especially for theft sprees.
Today, North Yorkshire Police has launched a proactive operation to prevent further offences catch those responsible.
Inspector Clive Turner, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force, said: “With many types of fuel doubling in price, including cooking and heating oils, diesel and petrol, officers are determined to suffocate the black market that has emerged for stolen fuel.
“We’re not talking about a couple of litres here and there – these are often very significant quantities costing thousands and thousands of pounds.
“Experienced criminals specialise in this type of theft and travel great distances to avoid detection.
“And some supply an oil black market, which funds organised crime groups and other criminal activities.”
Sixteen offenders have already been arrested in North Yorkshire or identified and circulated as wanted this year.
However, it’s common for one perpetrator to be behind many crimes in different areas of England and several detained in North Yorkshire were from as far afield as London.
They tend to use high-visibility clothing, commercial vehicles and industrial siphoning equipment to appear legitimate.
Many residents and businesses don’t know they’ve fallen victim until days or even weeks later.
And some may not know at all, meaning North Yorkshire Police believes there will have been significantly more than the 71 offences it recorded.
Insp Turner added: “Taking all this into account, it’s clear why it’s a challenging crime to tackle.
“But we have a solution and it’s called Operation Efficiency.”
The operation is being led by North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force and will use a range of tactics, including:
- Proactive policing techniques to monitor and stop suspects before they can commit crime
- Frontline patrols targeting vulnerable areas, in particular rural communities and businesses
- Intelligence profiling so police can quickly respond to areas suffering a peak in thefts, or even predict where thieves may go next
- Working with residents and businesses to ensure they know what to look out for and do report offences
- Maximising forensic opportunities, so if a crime does happen the suspects can be easily identified
The rural parts of North Yorkshire have been hardest hit by criminals in the first half of 2022.
Hambleton & Richmondshire had the most reported thefts during this time, with 16 reports, followed by 12 in Craven and the same number in Selby District.
Harrogate recorded the fewest offences – police believe this is because of good CCTV coverage by businesses and across the routes into the area.
In March alone, there were 20 oil thefts reported across the county.
And 65% of all thefts reported were cooking oil stolen from businesses, typically stolen from outside pubs and restaurant.
Used cooking oil is stolen to be converted into unregulated biodiesel and sold on the black market.
However, some of the biggest-value thefts have been heating oil from homes and businesses in North Yorkshire.
Thieves often damage the tanks to extract fuel quickly, which adds a further burden to victims.
The figures do not include drive-away thefts from petrol stations, which are categorised differently, but do include fuel syphoned from vehicles such as lorries, cars and tractors.
Insp Turner said: “This type of crime hasn’t been talked about much in the past. So the public probably aren’t fully aware of why it’s a problem or the signs to look out for.
“We’ll be doing more in the coming weeks to help people recognise the signs, stay safe and encourage people to report thefts.
“In the meantime, if you are targeted by fuel thieves, see anything suspicious such as van drivers in pub carparks at unusual times, or have any information about those responsible, please call us on 101, select option 1 and speak to our Force Control Room.
“If you believe a crime’s in progress, always dial 999.”