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December 13 2013 Latest news:
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Heating oil and woodfuel have become more attractive to thieves as fuel costs soar, says Leo Hickish of the Country Land & Business Association
The combination of rising fuel costs and a squeeze on peoples incomes means that heating oil has become vulnerable to theft. With mains gas unavailable to many of us in Sussex, thieves are well aware that houses in the countys rural areas offer rich pickings, easily converted into cash.
In most cases the criminals are getting away with it, but increasing awareness of the risk of heating oil theft, and taking measures to prevent it, should stem the flow. The large storage tanks on farms and indeed the fuel tanks of tractors themselves have long been a target, but domestic tanks are attracting unwanted attention these days as well.
Breakthrough in Wadhurst
There have been breakthroughs: this summer Sussex Police arrested two men over a theft in Wadhurst. About 2,000 litres of heating oil were recovered. At the time, Sergeant Natalie Daly told the BBC: Heating oil and fuel thefts are a real problem for the rural community and something that we are working to reduce.
The problem with heating oil should serve as a warning that all accessible sources of fuel are vulnerable. With firewood selling at up to 200 per tonne, it, too, has become a valuable commodity.
The increasing popularity of wood-burning stoves, which is also partly responsible for the rising price of woodfuel, means this is a busy time for deliveries as households stock up for the winter. While theft of domestic logs is hardly rife in this area, reports from other parts of the country suggest that thieves are picking up on the value of logs, so storing large quantities out of sight is probably sensible. If someone offers you logs, especially at a cheap rate, you should check where they have come from. If you are suspicious, report them and their vehicle to the police you do not want to risk handling stolen goods. The same goes for oil, of course.
Woodland owners need to pay particular attention as the theft of anything from whole trees to stacks of logs is increasing countrywide, with serious financial implications. A stack of timber left at the side of the road is easily whisked away by a grab lorry, so it is best to keep stacking areas out of sight, and preferably behind locked gates.
Oil tanks on farms or in gardens should have any dispensing nozzles and filling caps locked. It would be a good idea to fit security lights in the area, too. Disguise the tank as best you can and hinder vehicle access. It might even be worth installing security cameras which transmit images to a mobile phone. Bearing in mind the cost of a tank full of fuel, it could be a worthwhile investment.
If you are unfortunate enough to be the victim of fuel theft, please do report it to the police, Neighbourhood Watch or Farm Watch. Policing resources can only be allocated according to statistics. While theft of some logs might seem a relatively minor misdemeanour, experience shows that those involved in such crimes are also up to their necks in altogether more serious law-breaking, and really are worth catching.
Protect your fuel
Leo Hickish is Sussex Chairman of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA).