Three men have been arrested after thieves used a specially-adapted van to steal fuel from 16 petrol stations across the Greater Manchester region.

The yellow Renault Kangoo vehicle was rebuilt so 100-litre fuel tanks could be fitted in the back to hold the siphoned-off stolen petrol.

Eight of the thefts took place on petrol forecourts in Bolton, while the others took place in Bury, North Manchester and Wigan. Among the stores targeted were three Bolton supermarkets in the space of four hours.

On Saturday, August 15, the thieves struck at Asda, Middlebrook at 3.03pm, stealing £106.70 of fuel. Then 27 minutes later they targeted another Asda, in Moss Bank Way, stealing £106.76 of fuel, and at 7.16pm on the same day, they stole £30.28 of fuel from the Morrisons store in Mornington Road, Heaton.

The next day, three men, aged 25, 25 and 34, from Bolton, were arrested on suspicion of the thefts.

Police say hundreds of pounds worth of fuel was stolen, but the final total could be in thousands.

Detective inspector Charlotte Cadden, of the Bolton North neighbourhood policing team, said: “This was a large series so we are delighted to have taken such decisive action. I would ask that petrol station staff increase their awareness of who is pulling onto the forecourt, and share information with other garages in their chain and in their neighbourhood to support each other in preventing these types of large scale fraud.

“I would also ask the public to contact the police if they know of any business that is seeking to buy stolen fuel.”

The three men have been bailed until September 17.