MORE than 100 car number plates were stolen - and 51 ‘drive-off’ thefts from filling stations committed - in just three months in Sheffield, The Star can reveal.
Soaring petrol prices - and a belief among crooks that big companies can afford to take the hit - are fuelling a crime which sees the equivalent of one drive-off committed every other day.
The 113 plate thefts, and the drive-offs, were all carried out between the new year and last week, and represent at least one set of car plates going missing every day in Sheffield.
Police said stolen vehicle registration plates are often used by thieves to cover their tracks when they drive off from petrol stations without paying.
Over the same period last year, 125 number plates were stolen and 48 ‘drive-offs’ were reported.
Det Insp Helen Tate, from South Yorkshire Police’s crime management unit, said: “There has to be an element of fuel costs involved and I think it is seen among criminals as a victimless crime.
“In times of economic struggle, when people are finding it difficult, these are the kinds of crimes that are the first to escalate.”
Today South Yorkshire Police appealed for the public’s help in catching those responsible for stealing number plates.
DI Tate said plates stolen specifically for drive-offs, to make it difficult for culprits to be traced, are often used more than once.
She said they are also used to clone stolen vehicles to get them out of the county without attracting the attention of the police.
DI Tate said offenders think using stolen plates can help them give police the slip - but she said as soon as plates are recorded as missing police systems are updated and officers are on the look-out for vehicles using them.
She said the lifespan of a stolen number plate is minimal, and the sooner officers are made aware of suspects tampering with vehicles the more likely plates are to be found before criminals have chance to use them.
“If someone steals number plates they have a very short period of time to utilise them,” she said.
“The theft will quickly be raised on the police national computer to identify them. The lifespan of these plates is relatively short.”
DI Tate said drive-offs from petrol stations could be stopped if companies made motorists pay before filling.
“There’s one thing that would stop drive-offs, and that is making people pay before receiving their fuel,” she added.
“The technology is there but petrol stations are reluctant to do it because of the extra sales generated when customers go into a shop after filling up.”
n Anyone with information should call South Yorkshire Police on 101.