GARAGE bosses have called for police to crack down on drivers using fake number plates after a 15 per cent increase in fuel thefts in the Bradford district.

And oil industry bosses are urging police chiefs to reintroduce a garage forecourt watch scheme to tackle the problem.

Figures released by police in Bradford show there were 195 offences of making off without paying for petrol in the three months from April to June this year - more than three a day, and a 15 per cent increase from the 169 offences committed in the same period in 2013.

The biggest increase was in the Bradford South ward, where offences almost doubled, from 48 to 87. There were also big rises in Shipley and Bradford West.

But offences in Bradford East plunged from 62 to 40 and there were falls in Bradford City and Keighley.

Police said a great deal of work was being put into combating fuel thefts from petrol stations.

A spokesman for the Shell garage in Rooley Lane said it could be targeted by fuel thieves on a daily basis.

He said: "I am glad that the police are working on the problem but I would like to see them do more.

"There are a lot of people driving with fake number plates who steal petrol. If police took those cars off the road it would help us a lot.

"These offences cost us money. It's not just our garage. People are getting away from all petrol stations.

"We make sure our staff are vigilant and we have CCTV and number plate recognition. We can't do more to protect ourselves."

The British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS), which campaigns to reduce crime on Britain's service station forecourts, has worked with West Yorkshire Police to set up Forecourt Watch schemes in Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield, but there is not one in Bradford.

John Turtle, regional co-ordinator for BOSS in West Yorkshire, said: "We’re disappointed that fuel theft appears to be on the rise in Bradford. We used to operate a Forecourt Watch scheme in partnership with the police in Bradford and I’d be keen to work with them again.

“ Across the UK, forecourt crime costs retailers more than £30 million every year.

“We’ve developed initiatives that bring police and retailers together to deal with drive-offs and people claiming to have no means of payment. In partnership with West Yorkshire Police, BOSS has helped to establish successful Forecourt Watch schemes, which deal with drive-offs. Where they operate we’ve seen incidents of crime on some forecourts fall by as much as 50 per cent."

Detective Chief Inspector Jonathan Blackwell, Crime Manager for Bradford District, said: “By working with retailers in certain locations, we have reduced offending levels at garages which were previously hardest hit.

"We recognise there is a long way to go, and we regularly liaise with BOSS to better understand this problem and improve forecourt protection.

“Officers have been helping garages to improve security and detection methods through CCTV, and each Neighbourhood Area Team allocates officers for forecourts where there have been repeated thefts.

“We are working to make sure that our call handlers take all the necessary details first time. This means we can investigate as quickly as possible.

“Police are also actively working to increase the number of garages who work with us and the reporting of offences, which might help to explain the rise in recorded incidents this year."

Earlier this month, crime minister Norman Baker questioned whether police should respond to reports of motorists driving off without paying for fuel, if forecourt retailers were not willing to stop the practice by demanding pre-payment at the pump.

In response, Brian Madderson, the chairman of the Petrol Retailers' Association, said compulsory pre-payment at pumps would cause a "grievous loss of trade".