A massive theft of thousands of litres of fuel from an Esso-owned pipeline in Kent is being investigated by police.

Thieves gained access to Esso’s south-east pipeline, which transports fuel from the Fawley Refinery, Hampshire, to Purfleet Fuel Terminal and Gatwick Airport, near to Chevening House estate, which is shared by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

The theft was discovered after Esso introduced new security measures following attempts to siphon fuel from other parts of its pipe network.

The Sun reported that around 30,000 litres a day was funnelled off from the pipe into large containers and taken away on lorries, and some reports claimed the thieves had been operating for seven months.

A Kent Police spokesman said: “Kent Police was notified of some tampering to a fuel pipeline in the Sevenoaks area on August 6.

“Initial indications are that this was a well organised crime, employing highly specialist techniques to siphon fuel from pipelines which operate at very high pressure.”

Following discovery of the damage to the pipeline Esso had to temporarily isolate and shut down the section to make repairs, and these have now been completed.

Esso said it was able to make alternative arrangements during the shutdown and there was no disruption to deliveries.