A 23-year-old student from the West Midlands has been ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service after he was found guilty of a series of drive-offs.

Umair Khan from Bordesley admitted filling up cars at forecourts in Acocks Green, Small Heath and Shirley earlier this year – then driving off without paying bills of between £50 and £60.

He was arrested in the summer as part of Solihull Police’s Operation Kadence which targeted fuel thieves.

Khan was seen driving a black Ford Focus but it had number plates registered to a Mercedes. Police stopped him as he left the forecourt when they discovered more number plates in the car.

He was initially accused of stealing fuel worth almost £700 during 13 visits to petrol stations in Solihull and Birmingham between February and June but he denied all the charges. Prosecutors then agreed to drop eight of the alleged thefts when Khan changed his plea to guilty for five of the thefts.

He also admitted four charges of handling stolen number plates. Khan was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work, pay compensation for the stolen fuel, and also pay £200 court costs.

Meanwhile Operation Kadence has been deemed such a success that it is now being rolled out across the entire West Midlands force.

Chief Inspector Andy Beard, who is leading the operation, said: “We have seen a sharp rise over the past year or so in the number of thefts of vehicle registration plates, which we believe is linked to various criminality and, with the high price of fuel, is thought to be used by people driving off without paying for fuel. Recent comparisons from 2007 through to the past year show that the monthly averages for number plate thefts are up by around 75%. Similarly, from 2009 to 2010, the number of reported bilkings almost doubled.

“We launched Operation Kadence in main hotspot areas in July to tackle the issue locally. Initial results show that since the launch bilkings have reduced by 37% in the targeted areas, while number plate thefts have come down by 25%.”

As part of the operation, West Midlands Police is working closely with BOSS, the British Oil Security Syndicate and also with with BP and Halfords. BP is now funding the supply of tamperproof screws, which stop number plates from being removed from vehicles. Halfords is fitting the screws free of charge at its site in West Bromwich throughout this month, with a view to rolling out the service at its branches across the West Midlands in the New Year.