A man who repeatedly stole fuel from petrol stations using stolen number plates across the west of Hertfordshire was sentenced last week in connection with 35 offences.

His arrest follows a crackdown by Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Hemel Hempstead Safer Neighbourhood Teams on criminals who drive off without paying for fuel (bilking).

Richard Powell, aged 28 and from Hemming Way in Watford, appeared at St Albans Magistrates Court on March 6 and pleaded guilty to six offences (four bilkings and two thefts of number plates) and asked for a further 29 offences to be taken into consideration by the judge (20 bilkings and 9 thefts).

On Thursday, April 3 he was sentenced at St Albans Magistrates. He was given a suspended sentence of 24 months, 12 months supervision order, ordered to attend an education programme and complete 80 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay costs and compensation amounting to £908.86, and received eight points on his licence for driving without insurance.

Between November 2013 and February 2014, Powell stole number plates from vehicles in Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Berkhamsted, Kings Langley, Watford and Abbots Langley, which he attached to his uninsured Volkswagen Golf to steal fuel from petrol stations in Hemel Hempstead, Redbourn, St Albans, Berkhamsted and Watford.

Following an investigation led by the Kings Langley and Hemel South East Safer Neighbourhood Team, Powell was arrested on 16 February and four canisters full of fuel were found in his vehicle. He later admitted the offences to police.

Sergeant Adele Hopkin, who led the investigation, said: “It was a very complex investigation, because his offending spanned other areas of Hertfordshire, but we painstakingly pieced together each crime, scouring CCTV, recording number plates and matching them up to recent crimes. We were able to then identify Powell, who in total stole over £1,585 fuel, which we believe he was selling on.

“Powell thought he could evade police by stealing and changing number plates. I’d remind people of their responsibility of paying for their fuel. Police take this crime, and associated crime, such as theft from vehicles, very seriously.

“His arrest forms part of a wider crackdown led by the Hemel Hempstead Safer Neighbourhood Team on people who don’t pay for their fuel.

“A number of other arrests have been made recently and I’d urge people to think twice before committing this type of crime or they may find us knocking on their door.”

Kamal Hussain, aged 25 and of Dorrington Close, Luton, was charged with theft of £52 fuel from a BP in Breakspear Way in Hemel Hempstead on 11 January. He changed the appearance of his number plates for the crime. He pleaded guilty at St Albans Magistrates Court on 13 February and was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £267.62.

Matthew Evans, aged 29 and of The Back, Potten End, was charged with a theft from Tesco in St Albans Road, Hemel Hempstead, on 29 September 2013 and a theft of £60 fuel from Sainsbury’s in London Road, Hemel on 27 September 2013. He asked for four further bilking offences to be taken into account by the judge. He pleaded guilty at St Albans Magistrates Court on 6 March and was given a community order of 40 hours unpaid work, and pay costs totalling £160. Evans filled his car with fuel and on each occasion went in to the shop to inform staff he had no means to pay and although said he intended to pay, he never did pay any of the debts.

Bobby Cousins, aged 31 and of Highview Gardens, Potters Bar, has been charged with twelve bilking offences in Hemel Hempstead, Potters Bar and St Albans, and one theft from shop, all occurred in 2013. He appeared at St Albans Magistrates Court on 20 February and pleaded not guilty. The trail starts on 19 May 2014.

Sergeant Hopkin added: “The Safer Neighbourhood Teams in Dacorum are working closely with the fuel stations in the area to identify and target those committing these offences.

“There is a link between those who steal number plates and bilkings and I would encourage people to purchase anti-theft number plate screws and report stolen plates as soon as possible, often they are used within the first hour of being stolen to commit crime so it is essential we know.

“I would ask anyone who may have information on people who commit these types of crime to contact police or report it anonymously via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”