Stand off at the pumps

Tony Barlow, whose business trades as Local Service Stations in beautiful Shrewsbury, had an adventure at the pumps one Saturday that you could all do without. He says: "Just after opening up, a small white lorry pulled up to the diesel pump and the driver asked if we took EDC cards. I knew we did but verified it on the till and confirmed as such to the driver.

"After filling up, the driver and his mate, both eastern European, came to the till and his card was declined. He produced another EDC card which was also declined with the message ’retain card’."

As Tony points out, first thing on a Saturday morning with a myriad of things to do and faced with two fairly large eastern Europeans claiming they have no cash, wanting the card back and refusing to move their vehicle, is pretty intimidating.

He adds: "Sometimes it is easier to give in, take a name and address to free up the forecourt and to get on with the jobs and that may have been their plot to get away with a tank of fuel. Who knows?

"Sometimes, as in this case, there is not a hope in hell of the debt being paid so there is an impasse and it is down to who blinks first.

"They wanted their card back, obviously to try the same trick elsewhere and I wanted paying. They pleaded, cried that they would lose their jobs and were obviously calculating if they could reach and grab the card. They were average size but I was bigger which may have kept them at bay."

Tony, with some 40 years in retail under his belt, knew it would have been hopeless to contact the police as he would have had to prove the guys intended to not pay.

"Forty minutes later I had lost patience. I told them to park their lorry and walk. Miraculously some cash appeared and the bill was paid." Tony retained the card and contacted EDC to see if there was a reward given for such actions. "Their reply was ’no, there was no reward’ and that I had no right to retain the card."

I rang EDC, had a brief chat and forwarded Tony’s story on October 23, asking for comment and any useful advice and it didn’t bounce back. Then I sent a reminder on November 6 but still haven’t had an answer of any sort.

As Tony says at the end of his email: "Hang on a minute, should I have given back the card for them to try the same trick elsewhere as there was no incentive to remove the card from circulation to protect other retailers?

"My point is that, although a person of vast retail experience knows that a con is in process, the police would be no help and the card-issuing company does not care. We are on our own."

Do McDrive-offs count as crime?

Jake Robertson who runs Moravian Motors (Ford/Esso/Mace) in the High Street in Buckie, on the Moray Firth, expressed an interest in the security feature in Forecourt Trader’s November issue.

He asked for clarification of the mention of the reclassification of drive-offs as a criminal offence. "My question is: has something changed, as the local police up till now are not interested? It certainly should be an offence and I am interested in your comment."

When I spoke to Kevin Eastwood, executive director of BOSS (British Oil Security Syndicate), at the beginning of this year he said that one must report the drive-off as ’intentional’ and then the police have to respond to it as a crime.

This prompted a second email from Jake. How about Scotland he wanted to know; do the same rules apply? The short answer is yes.

I talked to BOSS’ press office which checked with BOSS Scotland. Although, as we all know, the rules do sometimes differ in Scotland, this is a Home Office edict so should be followed.

The press office sent me a copy of the Scottish Crime Recording Standard which spelled it out (although, as with all official documents the ’spelling’ was somewhat dyslexic).

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland looked at the National Crime Recording Standard introduced in England and Wales in 2003 and decided to develop a new standard for themselves modelled upon it.

It aims to take a more victim-orientated approach and ensure uniformity in crime-recording standards. This is good news, because, as we all agree, bilking certainly is a crime and forecourt operators are the victims.

The X word

Well, looking at the preceding two pieces in this column thugs at the pumps and drive-offs should I be saying Merry Xmas everyone?

Of course I should. It ain’t all bad is it? There aren’t as many forecourt operators as there used to be, but for those remaining, this could be a good thing.

You’ve taken on board the idea that the business is at least two-fold involving forecourt and convenience store.

And many of you are not just surviving, but thriving.

In fact, your outlets, in the main these days, look like what my brother would call ’sharpie-doo’ (forgive him, he’s Canadian). When he labels anything as sharpie-doo, he salutes it in respect.

So come on, deck your halls, jingle those tills and pull a few crackers. If trade drops, enjoy the break and plot for the next year. If it goes berserk you’ll get enough profit for an ace holiday later on.

I wish you all peace and prosperity for 2013.