Heating oil users living in and around Essex should take special care to ensure their properties and oil tanks are as secure as possible, following a spate of thefts in two villages in the county.
Oil thieves have so far targeted 28 properties in Great Leighs and Little Leighs, the Essex Chronicle reports.
The criminals are thought to be siphoning the oil into barrels and then calling a van to come and collect them.
One local person, who did not want to be named, said that this is occurring on an “industrial scale”, with the thieves sometimes stealing from up to five houses on one night. They have also been brazen enough to return to homes they have targeted before, with residents having to refill their tanks because they rely on the oil.
Another villager, 50-year-old Jeremy Blakemore, revealed that he has had about 1,000 litres of oil stolen. He said members of the community have been patrolling the area in the evening to try to spot the offenders, and also spoke of the mounting concern about the problem.
“Seven houses that we know of in the immediate area have been targeted in the last two or three weeks,” said Mr Blakemore. “It has been really ridiculous; they just keep returning.
“We’re all really worried. We think they are quite well organised because they have come in round the back, cut fences. If you add up the cost of the theft, it could come to more than £15,000.”
A spokesman for Essex Police said this is being treated as a priority crime, with local officers working with the rural crime team to share information and intelligence.
He also revealed that a white van seen in the area where the thefts have been occurring has been circulated on a national police database.
Residents who want advice on tank security can contact Oil Theft Watch, while anyone who sees any suspicious activity is urged to immediately contact the police.