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Embarrassing climbdown for PSNI over petrol station drive-off plan

The fact that the PSNI has so swiftly decided to shelve a new scheme aimed at dealing with people who drive off from petrol stations without paying, is a sure sign that this was an idea that needed more careful consideration.

The pilot scheme, which was introduced at the start of this month in two policing districts - Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Ards and North Down - was widely criticised by retailers and political representatives.

It is hardly surprising that the plan caused controversy and perhaps this should have been anticipated by the police.

The initiative would have put the onus on business owners to pursue non-paying drivers and would have meant them paying £2.50 to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for information on every car and then taking civil action through the courts if they refused to pay up.

As one forecourt owner pointed out, it would not be worthwhile chasing someone for a relatively small amount of money.

However, the issue of drivers failing to pay is a persistent problem for petrol stations.

According to police figures, motorists drove off almost 2,700 times over a three year period, with the amount of unpaid fuel totalling more than £80,000 although it is estimated that 85 per cent of these drive-offs are genuine mistakes.

Police say helping retailers recover their money is a ``substantial but preventable burden.''

The PSNI must ensure they are making best use of stretched resources but there is a concern that shifting responsibility for pursuing those who deliberately steal fuel sends out the wrong message.

Certainly, this particular idea needed much more discussion, explanation and wider consultation with those directly affected.

Having to postpone the scheme so soon after it was launched is a bit embarrassing but hopefully lessons will be learned for the future.

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