THE number of ‘drive-offs’, where drivers fill up with petrol and leave without paying, has promped a new crime-fighting campaign by Lancashire police.

Last year saw 1,323 reported instances of ‘drive-offs’ in the county, up from 974 in 2012 – a 19.3 per cent increase.

There have been 270 cases reported since April this year alone.

Posters warning that it is a criminal offence to fill up and drive off without paying have been put up across the county’s petrol stations. Pre-payment pumps have been installed at targeted locations and CCTV has been improved to make the criminals easier to identify and detect.

As part of a new county-wide policy to ensure these measures have a positive impact, all garages have now been given the same guidance for dealing with incidents, speeding up police investigations and helping make sure the businesses recover their money.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire police and crime commissioner, said: “Garages across the county were seeing more and more drive-offs – and owners clearly wanted to work more closely with the police to reduce this growing trend.

"Now, I've worked with the constabulary to develop a policy which will help not only businesses but also reduce demand on the police, cutting wasted time while hopefully ensuring more criminals are caught and brought to justice.

“Those who deliberately drive off from petrol stations are often involved in wider criminality – it's important procedures are put in place to give officers the best chance of successfully tracking the culprits down.

“This policy is an excellent example of what can be achieved when businesses and the Constabulary work together.”

The new policy encourages garages to immediately make use of the Forecourt Watch scheme to record incidents and capture evidence.

Where the incident is classed as a civil dispute, there is a linkin with the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS) to recover the money owed.

The police say they have also ‘streamlined’ their processes to ensure officers are not deployed unnecessarily to incidents which turn out to be accidental.