Investigations into theft from oil pipelines in the south of England have led to the discovery of two suspected diesel laundering plants, capable of evading an estimated £12m in duty.

The plants, in Essex and Merseyside, have been dismantled by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The discovery of the plants, which are capable of producing 20 million litres of illicit fuel a year, is connected to activity by Kent Police, investigating the theft of fuel from commercial pipelines in the UK.

During a series of multi-agency operations last Thursday (20 November), HMRC, accompanied by officers from Merseyside Police, searched commercial premises in the Bootle area where they discovered a laundering plant in an industrial unit.

In coordinated activity, HMRC and officers from Kent Police searched a number of commercial premises in the Upminster and West Thurrock areas of Essex and uncovered a second fuel laundering facility.

Pat Curtis, national oils co-ordinator, HMRC, said: “Every illegal diesel laundering operation typically generates tonnes of toxic waste and robs UK taxpayers by evading fuel duty. Taxpayers are not only missing out on the stolen tax that ends up the pockets of the criminals, but will have to pay the substantial clean-up and disposal costs.

“Buying illicit fuel not only funds crime, it supports and encourages these dangerous activities within our communities and we will continue to work with our partners in the Police to target this criminality, which costs millions in lost taxes every year.”

Investigations into the seizures are continuing.

During the operation HMRC officers seized:

Upminster, Essex

• 14,000 litres of laundered fuel.

• 136 industrial containers, tanks and tubes.

• 50 gallon oil drums - believed to contain waste product.

West Thurrock, Essex

• A tanker containing 5,000 litres of contaminated diesel

• 10,000 litres of contaminated diesel in a storage tank

• Ten 1,000 litre industrial containers – three full of contaminated diesel and seven empty

• A 40 ft curtain-sided lorry

• Three lorry tractor units

• Two lorries

• A van

Bootle, Merseyside

• Eighteen 1,000 litre industrial containers containing laundered fuel waste in a 40 ft curtain sided lorry

• Thirteen 1,000 litre industrial containers – five containing laundered fuel waste

• 60 to 70 industrial containers inside a further shed

• Products for laundering fuel

• Around 100,000 litres of untested diesel

• A large tanker truck

• A pallet of laundering product