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Why should petrol retailers expect the police to hot foot after those who simply forget to pay for their fuel?

By Lindy McDowell

Published 17/08/2016

Driving force: the PSNI has decided to shelve a pilot scheme to deal with petrol station bilkers
Driving force: the PSNI has decided to shelve a pilot scheme to deal with petrol station bilkers

I know somebody who once innocently drove off from a filling station without paying for petrol. She'd wanted to buy other items so she'd driven her car forward from the pumps into a parking bay. When she came back out again there was no "OMG, I forgot about the petrol" moment of realisation. She just got in and drove off.

Some time later, back at home, the house phone rang. The cops! Her heart stopped, she told me. In that moment she saw Hydebank beckoning.

But the policewoman reassured her that it would be treated as a genuine mistake. So long as she got back down there pronto. And paid up.

A relatively small incident then, in terms of officer hours and subsequent form-filling. But these things add up.

This week we learn that, following criticism from local traders and politicians, the PSNI has now knocked on the head a controversial new pilot scheme introduced to deal with (or, as it turns out, not deal with) those who drive off from filling stations without paying for fuel.

The PSNI had made the valid point that around 85% of drive-offs fall into the above "genuine mistake" category.

And that chasing up these non-criminals puts an obvious burden on police resources at a time when funding is notoriously handcuff-tight.

But retailers were angry. Drive-offs, they said, would cost them money even in innocent cases as they would have to pay the DVLA £2.50 a time to get details of car owners.

DUP councillor Robert Adair voiced another common concern - that it would encourage deliberate drive-offs. A free-for-all, is how he put it. "It's the wrong approach for the police, they're basically asking petrol stations to do the job for the police."

But is the reverse not also true? Is it not a case of the petrol stations asking the police to do a job that should be down to the petrol stations?

Now, when it comes to the scourge of shop-lifting and thieving I have tremendous sympathy for retailers. You work hard to make a living, then some toe-rag comes along and steals your profits.

But if I was to leave my purse sitting unattended on the forecourt and some thief lifted it, I think the local constabulary might not be minded to launch a major search and rescue operation for it either.

And I do know that if I were to leave the key in the car ignition and someone stepped into it and drove off, the insurance company would say, tough, that's your own fault.

The argument being that the onus should be on the owner to take reasonable steps to secure their property.

In the US almost all filling stations (the ones that I've used anyway, across many states) require you to pay by card at the machine or at the till before using the pump.

Would that not work here?

Yes, the police should be involved in cases where there is obvious criminal intent.

But at the heart of the argument is this reality. Police resources are finite.

And the money and hours currently spent chasing dunderheads who forget to pay for fuel would be better spent targeted at real crooks.

What it comes down to is that too often, these days, we expect too much from public services we take for granted.

We want the police to be omnipresent, we want teachers to be almost surrogate parents, we expect GPs to dole out prescriptions for non-essentials like toothpaste and sun-cream.

Something has to give.

Sadly those who work in policing, education and the NHS might argue - it already has.

Let’s hope Brexit doesn’t trigger cold front

This week’s fabulous Mediterranean-esque weather has been brought to us courtesy of what’s been described as a Spanish plume.

Post Brexit, will we continue to qualify for Spanish plumes?

There was a dodgy moment at the start of the week when some reports were suggesting that this particular plume had been “blown off course”.

My immediate thought was, that’s Mrs Merkel at her work. But the plume resumed.

Once Article 50 has been triggered though, it may be a different matter.

Article 50 or Factor 30.

It’s a tough choice.

Driven to distraction by bus blocking road

Belfast city centre this week has been absolutely wall-to-wall with coaches.

Those big luxury buses that transport foreign visitors around the place. It’s great to see. Further proof of our growing tourist trade. Bring it on, I say.

However, my welcome for this big bus influx does not extend to the one parked the other day smack in the middle of Skipper Street, holding up all following traffic (including me) until every single passenger had exited and been reunited with their suitcases. Come on. A bit of respect for locals too?

Belfast Telegraph

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