Lancashire police have launched a crackdown on ‘drive-offs’ after a surge in the number of cases across the county.

Last year 1,323 ‘drive-offs’ were reported in the county, up 19.3% on the 974 cases in 2012, and there have been 270 cases reported since April this year.

As part of the campaign all petrol filling stations in the county are being encouraged to join the Forecourt Watch scheme operated by BOSS (British Oil Security Syndicate) to record incidents and capture evidence.

The police say that if all the forecourts follow the same procedures it will speed up their investigations and help the businesses to recover their money.

In addition posters warning that it is a criminal offence to fill up with fuel and drive off without paying have been put up across the county’s petrol stations. Pre-payment pumps have been installed at targeted locations and CCTV has been improved to make the criminals easier to identify and detect.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire police and crime commissioner, said: “Garages across the county were seeing more and more drive-offs – and owners clearly wanted to work more closely with the police to reduce this growing trend.

“Now, I’ve worked with the constabulary to develop a policy which will help not only businesses but also reduce demand on the police, cutting wasted time while hopefully ensuring more criminals are caught and brought to justice.

“Those who deliberately drive off from petrol stations are often involved in wider criminality. It’s important procedures are put in place to give officers the best chance of successfully tracking the culprits down.

“This policy is an excellent example of what can be achieved when businesses and the constabulary work together.”

Chief inspector Abid Khan said: “Lancashire Police has worked closely with our business community to develop the new procedure, and I hope it will provide confidence to the forecourt community.

“Petrol stations play a vital role in the lives of our communities, often providing additional services to support to them.

“To have them targeted by those who do not wish to do what everyone else is expected to, and pay for their fuel, is unacceptable and we will target these people wherever it is appropriate to do so.”