Northern Ireland

New PSNI petrol 'drive-off' pilot scheme criticised

Petrol pump Image copyright PA
Image caption As many as 85% of forecourt drive-offs are 'genuine mistakes' that do not require police input, says the PSNI

A new PSNI pilot scheme to deal with people who leave petrol stations without paying for their fuel is facing criticism.

It has been introduced in two districts - Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Ards and North Down.

Police said research showed up to 85% of drive-offs are "genuine mistakes" that do not require their input.

Now, petrol station retailers will be responsible for tracing drivers who do not pay.

Letters were sent to petrol stations in the two districts in July explaining the change, which came into effect at the start of August.

'Washing their hands'

David Cardwell, who runs a petrol station in Portavogie, County Down, said police were "washing their hands" of the issue.

The new process means retailers will "have to send a letter to the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) to get the information on the car, which is a £2.50 fee and tell them that there's been a criminal act", he said.

Retailers will then have to write to the driver to ask them if they were in the petrol station on a certain date and to ask them to pay for the fuel, added Mr Cardwell.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dealing with forecourt drive-offs is a substantial burden on resources, says the PSNI

The new system means if the person responsible does not pay up, retailers will have to take civil action through the courts, he said.

"They (the PSNI) are not giving us any back-up at all with it, they said they haven't got the manpower to address it," added Mr Cardwell.

"If someone drives off with £10 of fuel then we have to add £2.50 onto it. It's not worth chasing someone up for that, we'll probably just have to write it off."

'Substantial burden'

DUP councillor for Ards and North Down, Robert Adair, said the scheme was a "free for all" that would lead to an increase in the number of people driving off without paying.

"It's the wrong approach for the police, they're basically asking petrol stations to do the job for the police," he said.

"I am asking the PSNI to withdraw the scheme until there's consultation with the local business community here, because we have solutions and a way forward that could resolve this."

The PSNI said that in the vast majority of such cases, their role was to help petrol stations recover civil debts, which was placing a "substantial but preventable burden" on police resources.

"The purpose of this pilot is to remove much of that burden and free up local police time to deal with criminality, identify and apprehend offenders and keep people safe," said a police statement.

The scheme would be subject to an "ongoing review" to assess the impact on policing in the districts where it is being piloted, said the PSNI.

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