MOTORISTS who drive off from petrol stations without paying are on the increase - and rising fuel prices may be to blame.
In the last six months there have been 315 reported cases of drivers fleeing forecourts without paying for their fuel.
Pinkwell ward, in Hayes, was the worst hit with 79 incidents since January, an increase of more than 50 per cent.
But Northwood Hills and Brunel, in Uxbridge, saw the biggest increases, with both jumping from one incident during the same period the previous year to 15 and 37 respectively.
Pancaras Duelas, shift manager at The Rock UK petrol station in Shepiston Lane, Hayes, said: "We get at least one (drive-off) a day, sometimes up to three. They never take less than £70 or £80 worth of petrol, sometimes up to a hundred pounds.
"We get help from the police but offenders often don't have real number plates."
Nantaja Murujath, cashier at the BP petrol station in South Ruslip, also said drivers fled after filling their tanks on a daily basis.
Managers agreed there had been difficulties tracing criminals because number plates were often blocked out with stickers.
Inspector Andy Jones said: "There's been increases of about 30 offences in the first half of 2008, which may be in part due to rising fuel prices.
"There are some connections between petrol station drive-offs and other related offences.
"We take these allegations very seriously and we carry out overt and covert operations as well as actively engaging with retailers."
Schemes such as Forecourt Watch, where petrol stations inform each other about incidents, as well as Automatic Number Plate Recognition are being used to try to combat the problem.
But in some wards the number of offences had dropped.
South Ruislip and Uxbridge North both saw the numbers of people fleeing with full tanks more than halve.
Inspector Jones added: "We do target specific garages that have had a problem and will be using such tactics across the borough." ..