Police chief slammed over "ill-informed" fuel theft comments

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A leading independent forecourt retailer has slammed a police chief’s “ill-informed” suggestion that drivers should be made to pay for fuel in advance to prevent theft.

Simon Cole, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s (NPCC) lead on local policing, told The Telegraph that the industry “could design out bilking in 30 seconds by making people pay up front, which is what they do in other countries”.

“They don’t, because the walk in their shops is part of their business offer,” he added.

But David Charman, owner of Spar Parkfoot in Kent, said his “ill-informed” comments betrayed a lack of understanding of the logistics and cost involved of implementing pay-at-pump technology.

“They [the police] have no comprehension of the logistics of charging people in advance, and people’s reactions to that,” he said.

“For independents it isn’t an expense that can’t be afforded. Rural petrol stations would never be able to afford.”

He added that 70% of his customers come to use the shop, and that many still want to pay by cash.

“People are creatures of habit, it’d take an awful lot to make people change their habits of fuel payment.”

Cole, who is also chief constable for Leicestershire, pointed to other countries that had widely introduced pay-at-pump technology.

But David argued that the “Americans wouldn’t have done it if they had done their homework - no-one is coming into their shops”.

He also criticised the police for “shirking responsibility” for drive-offs unless the person was of interest to them. 

Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chairman Brian Madderson said the police should be honest that they are struggling to deliver their commitment to reduce crime, rather than “victim blaming”.

The PRA and its members regard switching to pay-at-the-pump as prohibitively expensive, estimating the cost to retrofit petrol pumps to take card payments at an average filling station at £20,000.

“The UK has seen a 40% reduction in filling stations over the past 15 years. Those remaining have developed their retail offer to better serve their customers, with many lost amenities from banks and post offices migrating into the store of petrol stations, particularly in rural areas,” he added.

“Rather than lecturing the victims of crime, the government should be empowering responsible businesses to enforce the law where the police are too overstretched to intervene. One solution would be to give petrol retailers electronic access to the DVLA’s Vehicle Keeper database, so they can pursue drive-offs through the civil courts and ease pressure on the police”. 

Readers' comments (7)

  • Very well said David. The Police have no interest or understanding of drive offs except to use their stock answer "pay before drawing fuel" They will not even visit us to take details or images, yet if someone of interest to them has been on our site, they are all over us like a rash wanting CCTV images. I am not ashamed to admit that, yes we do want people to come into the shop, it is the only way we can make a profit and remain open! That does not mean that we are asking to be robbed. How would everyone feel if they were asked to pay in advance when they go in any high street shop or supermarket just in case their intentions are to shoplift? What we need is for the Police to do their job of catching the thieves, and also for the Government to give them the funds to do this!

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  • some supermarkets offer a non manned pay at the pump service out of hours. how does the pump know whether the customer is of age or being put into a legal container if not a vehicle ?

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  • Having just read about the unfortunate police officers comments
    I totally agree with the retailers comments
    Isn’t it interesting how the police can always find a reason why they cannot help and they are underfunded ,stretched on resources , or don’t have a car available !
    Yet our rates etc are not reduced or any other savings resulting from the withdrawal of police service happens
    In the past if your lucky enough to get an officer to turn up it’s four days later !
    Yet police can turn out in force for many other events
    If thieves have knowledge that they can maybe get away with it then they will try .
    The police are advertising this with such rash comments
    Let’s see what they would want if they were the offended party

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  • I agree 1000% with the police on this one. I have been a fuel retailer for over 20 years now and I still can not believe that there are people out there against making customers pay first. For the price of a few stickers and upgrades to pumps/ Epos. You completely wipe out a crime. Retailers argue that the customers won’t buy things from the shop. What utter nonsense. You may lose a small percentage of shop sales but you eliminate, fuel theft, staff anxiety, the massive cost of external cameras and the need for employing an external company to chase repayment for failure to pay. YET many of these same retailers will soon be employing pay through app technology. The police can not trace someone once they have put a stolen number plate on the vehicle unless by some miracle they recongnise the face of the criminal. So I suggest that the fuel industry stop blaming the police and look inwards and ask what they could be doing to prevent fuel theft? Simple answer. Make people pay first. Why would the police help us when we refuse to help ourselves. Through some misguided theory that we will lose massive amounts of shop sales. If we all agree to do it the customers will understand. How do I know? My sites are pay first all day and night and guess what? The customers understand. Best of luck to those of you that still refuse to change. Keep paying others to solve a crime you could stop before it happens. How much is that costing you a year?

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  • Rony, as your sites are pay first, how do you know it doesn’t make a difference? You could be losing custom but how would you know?

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  • If you have pay at pump, you’ll lose shop sales. If you make people pay first inside the shop, you’ll lose out on fuel sales where people dispense more than intended.

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  • Disgusting thing to say. Not that different from saying women wearing short skirts are responsible for being attacked. The police are now completely incompetent which is why crime is out of control.

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