Analysis by The Yorkshire Post has revealed that only a small fraction of the motorists who drive off with up to £120 of unpaid petrol are identified and brought to justice.
Petrol station owners are calling for consistency across police forces in reporting, recording and following up forecourt crimes which cost them more than £30m a year nationally.
Between 2013 and 2015 West Yorkshire Police only brought action against thieves in six per cent of its 10,769 petrol thefts. This compares with North Yorkshire Police who resolved 18 per cent and Humberside Police’s rate of 38 per cent.
And the percentage of drive-off thefts in Yorkshire resulting in action - which can include charges or a caution - has fallen in recent years.
The largest force West Yorkshire resolved only 3.7 per cent of 3,830 cases in 2015 - down from 7.3 per cent in 2013.
South Yorkshire Police failed to provide up-to-date figures in response to The Yorkshire Post’s request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), blamed government cuts to the police force.
He said: “The issue is that it’s getting worse both in the number of incidents and in detection. It reached its height last year when the police authorities were under cuts by the Tory government. It is a criminal offence and needs following up.”
Joseph Richardson, Managing Director of Jos Richardson and Son, said drive-offs cost his organisation an estimated £4,000-£6,000 per year across his five petrol sites in Yorkshire.
He said: “Unfortunately drive-offs are something we have grown to live with. In my view the police don’t do enough, although the level of attention and service does vary from force to force. Some want to push it towards the ‘civil debt’ category and therefore it is not recorded as a crime.”
Nitikant Kasana, manager of BP Gledhow Service Station, Leeds, added drive-offs were the biggest loss to the business.
‘The total value of drive-offs in 2015 was £7,241 which is a massive figure in terms of losses,” he said.
Inspector Tom Harrison, of West Yorkshire Police, said thefts of fuel from petrol station forecourts continued to be a challenging area for policing.
“Detecting offences of this kind is reliant upon, in most cases, good quality CCTV to identify the offender or the registration number of the vehicle to identify the owner of the vehicle. If either of these are not available, in most cases, there are very few
additional lines of enquiry,” he said.
A North Yorkshire Police spokesman also said crimes were not resolved due to difficulties in identifying offenders.
He said: “Reasons for a lack of resolution include a lack of available evidence such as CCTV, poor descriptions of the offenders, or offenders committing additional crimes to evade detection, such as deliberately altering their vehicle’s identity.”
An AA spokesman said there was a spike in the number of fuel thefts when forecourt prices were high. He added: “Obviously because a vehicle moves around these thefts are often difficult to pursue and sometimes false number plates are used or the vehicles involved may be unregistered making it harder to track the thief.”
It is not just petrol stations that have been targeted. Rural homeowners who are already faced with high heating bills handed in insurance claims for as much as £3.4m related to thefts from their fuels tanks.
Around three per cent of homes in Yorkshire are not connected to the mains gas grid and are reliant on other forms of heating using oil and firewood.