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”.