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INDUSTRY FOCUS

Criminal drive-off spike prompts interest in unmanned stations

A spike in criminal drive-offs from forecourts has prompted renewed interest in unmanned fuel stations, according to Metro Security which provides technology that integrates CCTV and ANPR for both kiosk-driven and ‘pay-at-the-pump’ service areas.

But Metro managing director Trevor Wallace has called for calm in the growing row between the fuel industry and the police over the rise in bilking offences.

He said the discourse had been reduced to a ‘binary’ argument that was fuelling a stand-off between two sides that should be working in collaboration to cut fuel crime which is costing £30 million each year.

Wallace, whose software and hardware integration business provides technology solutions for both manned and unmanned forecourts, said: “This is a complex issue that requires a more considered discussion between the police and fuel industry – you can’t simply reduce it to a binary issue.”

He was responding to a police chief who earlier this month blamed petrol station owners for fuel thefts after it was revealed that just two out of 255 incidents in his force area this year resulted in charges.

His comments came after a Freedom of Information request by the Matlock Mercury found that thousands of fuel thefts from petrol stations in Derbyshire were going unpunished.

The FoI request revealed that only 211 charges have been brought from 4,012 drive-offs in the last 10 years. Of the 255 fuel thefts from service stations in Derbyshire up until September 2018, only two charges had been brought.

Detective chief superintendent Mark Knibbs said: “The theft of fuel is a clear illustration of the dilemmas facing police forces in making decisions on where we place our limited resources.

“This type of crime is wholly preventable if stores adopted a pre-payment model for customers purchasing their fuel; something that’s been implemented successfully at many petrol stations in the county.

“As a force, we will continue to focus our resources on protecting vulnerable victims and on tackling the most serious criminality.

The BOSS (British Oil Security Syndicate) crime index recorded its biggest ever rise in non-payment since the benchmark was launched in 2015 – rising from 97 to 104 points compared to the previous quarter where the trend had been consistently down over a two-year period.

“We have seen a lot of interest in the pay at pump solutions where we monitor re-fuelling, and even talk to drivers 24/7, remotely,” said Trevor Wallace.

“Obviously, there is a trade-off with potential loss for food and other sales, but many customers are doing the maths in terms of the locations and levels of footfall and are coming to the conclusions that preventing the fraud is better than trying to re-coup the loss.

“We are agnostic in this debate as we provide solutions for both, but there is an understandable comfort from knowing that the fuel cannot be dispensed without it being paid for. There is not only the loss of the fuel, but also the lost time and wasted police hours, which is why BOSS launched its Payment Watch scheme,” said Wallace.

Payment Watch is the industry’s successful initiative which allows forecourt operators to chase NMOP (no means of payment) customers to clear their debts without involving the police. Since it was introduced, police call outs have reduced by almost 78 per cent and 4,600 police hours have been saved.

Metro Analytic Retail Solution

Building upon this, M.A.R.S, (Metro Analytic Retail Solution) – which works with both manned and unmanned forecourts - also dents criminal profits and reduces the number of police call outs to what many in the industry call the ‘crisis of ‘bilking Britain.’

Drive-offs have risen from £26 million to £31 million per annum in the last six years, according to the Petrol Retailer’s Association (PRA) and there is a persistent percentage of incidents where payment is never retrieved or offenders taken to task.

M.A.R.S. an integrated technology that links the pumps to CCTV and ANPR can be activated remotely to provide vital, high-quality evidence and intelligence of both malicious and non-malicious customer and staff behaviours, all at the push of a button or click of a mouse.

In manned stations, remote monitoring based upon intelligence-led investigations post event also prevents the potential for conflict with the forecourt retail staff, another key feature as violence against retail staff has doubled in the last 12 months.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) six in every 1,000 retail staff has been the subject of violence and aggression in the last 12 months, figures verified by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and shop workers union USDAW.

Trials have shown six-figure performance improvements with estate roll-outs of M.A.R.S. Introduced as a crime-reducing solution, fuel company customers have also seen efficiency savings by reducing refueling times.

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