Durham Police claim some forecourt operators are not doing enough to deter fuel theft, and have placed a large sign outside one petrol station trying to pressure it into installing pre-payment pumps.

A police van has been parked outside Morrison’s filling station in North Road Darlington with a large sign inside the windscreen warning: “Criminals are stealing from this garage. . . you’re paying for their fuel.”

Chief Constable Mike Barton announced the campaign and said the police force plans to park the vehicle outside filling stations identified as not doing enough to tackle fuel theft.

Durham Police say they have identified several petrol stations where fuel theft is happening more frequently and consequently those premises are becoming “hotspots” for thieves.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Weir from Durham’s Serious Crime and Justice Team said Durham Police were called to more than 600 incidents concerning non payment on forecourts last year.

While many sites had few call outs, two Morrisons in Darlington accounted for more than 50 between them. He added that while Forecourt Watch works well, it was not enough in some cases.

He said: “Theft of fuel from filling stations is an issue we believe could be reduced by a more proactive stance from forecourt retailers. One solution for example, is introducing pre-payment for fuel.

“Theft of fuel in many cases is the tip of the iceberg. Vehicles used in fuel theft are often stolen or vehicle number plates are stolen prior to the offence taking place to hide the offending vehicle’s identity, and they drive off with a full tank of petrol to commit more crimes.

“The police vehicle is being parked up at one of the filling stations currently identified as having the highest numbers of drive offs. It is my belief that criminals are actively targeting here as they know they are getting away with it.”

He added: “We want to encourage forecourt owners to work more closely with the police to reduce all of the criminality associated with this offending.”

Mark Todd, Morrisons director of retail petrol, said: “Like all the multiple site petrol retailers in the UK, we operate one standard method of payment.

“The overwhelming majority of our customers appreciate the opportunity to fill or part fill their vehicles as soon as they arrive at the pump and only pay for what they dispensed.

“Pre-payment is not only unpopular, but also inefficient for the customer: if they can’t fit the pre-pay value into their vehicle, they would have to go back into the kiosk and get their change – not to mention the associated fuel loyalty points adjustment.

“We keep an eye on the issue, but have no plans to introduce the system at present.”

DS Weir said: “I reserve the right to escalate the action if the sign doesn’t work.

“This could involve contacting insurers to ensure they are aware of the risks posed by offenders driving off at speed from forecourts, and ensuring the top board at Morrisons are aware of this issue.”

He added: “Morrisons is aware of how this problem could be tackled. They already have some pre-payment pumps at these forecourts.”