Police to crack down on Perth fuel thieves
Filling up: This truck driver allegedly failed to pay almost $1460 for diesel at a High Wycombe station. Picture: WA Police

Police have launched a crackdown on fuel thieves - flooding Perth's drive-off hotspots with extra cars to try to catch them in the act.

Under Operation Aniseed, police armed with numberplate recognition cameras will roam near service stations, waiting to pounce when a drive-off is reported.

Fourteen suburbs will be targeted in the two-week operation, with some service stations in those areas being hit up to 50 times a week.

This truckie allegedly drove off with $1459.60 worth of stolen fuel after filling up in High Wycombe on May 26.

According to the industry, fuel theft has become a $6 million a year problem in WA, but the real figure could be far higher because many cases went unreported.

In just one case this week, a truck driver failed to pay almost $1460 for diesel at a High Wycombe station.

Some of those whose faces have been published in The Weekend West today are also wanted over multiple drive-offs committed in stolen cars or in vehicles fitted with false numberplates.

This woman drove off without paying for $51 worth of petrol in Munster on May 19.

Fuel retailers welcomed the crackdown, having accused police in the past of not doing enough. But police claim the industry has been slow to act by not embracing pre-payment technology, which they say could help stop drive-offs overnight.

"It is the very strong opinion of WA Police that the implementation of pre-payment for fuel at all service stations would minimise or even eliminate both inadvertent and deliberate fuel drive-off offences," Assistant Commissioner Gary Budge said.

Some Perth stations have already moved to pre-payment at night or on bowsers close to exit points.

But the Motor Trade Association believed full pre-payment would hurt station owners because they would lose out on in-store sales of food and drinks and other items which were often more profitable than fuel.

Police and retailers also disagreed about the legal definition of drive-offs.

The industry believes all cases should be treated as theft. But police say in many cases where drivers have simply forgotten to pay, it was a civil breach of contract and not a crime.

Mr Budge said investigating those cases tied up considerable resources and rarely resulted in a charge because most people were happy to pay when informed of their mistake.

Police say this man drove off without paying for $100 worth of petrol from an Armadale service station on March 25.

"We have always said we will target those cases where there is clear evidence of criminal conduct such as those involving repeat offenders or stolen cars or plates, but that is it," he said. Operation Aniseed will also examine why some service stations are hit more than others. Mr Budge said it was not uncommon to have two stations just a few hundred metres apart but one would have just a few drive-offs each week, while the other had dozens.

The West Australian

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