There were more than 3,000 drive-offs reported to the police in Northern Ireland in just one year, with only 37 successful prosecutions, and the true level of forecourt crime is higher still according to the PRA.

The crime figures were disclosed by the Belfast Telegraph after a Freedom of Information Request, and show that in the 12 months to June 3,151 forecourt thefts were reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), with petrol and diesel worth £32,565 taken.

But PRA chairman Brian Madderson, told the newspaper the true figures should be much higher, and said many retailers were put off reporting incidents.

He said: “I have held several meetings with the PSNI over the past year on the issue.

“The figures reported seem very low to me and I can only think that a lot of retailers are not bothering to report incidents as they feel there is little police interest or little likelihood of a successful prosecution.

“With only 37 prosecutions, this could be because retailers are not in a position to provide evidence or that the police are not bothering to progress to court.”

In the summer of 2016 the PSNI shelved a scheme to make petrol station owners responsible for tracing drivers who do not pay, after a storm of criticism.

Letters were sent to petrol stations in two districts – Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Ards and North Down – in July notifying them of the change, and saying it would come into effect at the start of August.

Police said research showed up to 85% of drive-offs are “genuine mistakes” that do not require their input.

PSNI superintendent Brian Kee said the PSNI recognised the impact of making off without paying for fuel. But he added: “We also recognise that this particular demand on policing is largely preventable and, as with any organisation, our resources are finite.

“The routine attendance of police at all drive-offs, and particularly at those where a crime is not suspected, has in the past placed a substantial but preventable burden on local police resourcing and budget. Where there is evidence that a crime has been committed, police investigate.”