If criminal gangs really are as organised as investigating authorities would have us believe, then they must have recruited some of the best and most eminently employable business development heads in the country.
There is, it appears, no money-spinning opportunity that can escape their steely gaze.
When the imposition of a Landfill Tax made it more expensive for demolition and construction professionals to dispose of their waste materials, criminal gangs quickly established a lucrative side-line in fly-tipping and the creation of illegal tips.
When the price of steel, copper and other metals spiked, gangs transitioned seamlessly into the commodities business, ripping out trackside cables, stealing manhole covers and using demolition and construction sites as cash and carry outlets without the inconvenience of the cash element.
And now, it appears that those same criminal gangs have established a first-mover advantage yet again, forming new divisions to develop the opportunities presented by the theft of fuel.
The rise of fuel theft was not just predicted, it was inevitable. And while demolition and construction companies were bemoaning the rise and rise in diesel fuel costs and the loss of the red diesel rebate, criminal gangs were investing in syphoning equipment and intermediate bulk containers (IBC).
From low-level syphoning targeting equipment and vehicles, through destructive attacks on fuel tankers, to audacious, industrial-scale raids on fuel depots, fuel thefts are on the rise. And to date, the only solutions on offer are aimed at identifying the point of origin when stolen fuel is discovered.
By then, the damage is done. And, unlike fly-tipping and metal thefts, the financial impact of fuel theft is manifold.
There is, of course, the initial cost of the stolen fuel itself; and that is currently a figure that apparently has no ceiling. Then, of course, there is the cost of time lost while machines are refuelled. In many instances, machines and/or fuel tanks are damaged – often beyond repair – during the act of fuel theft. That’s another cost that must be borne by the unfortunate contractor or equipment owner.
Then, to cap it all, there is every likelihood that the theft of the fuel may have caused diesel to be spilled. There are already numerous reports of scaffold poles being punched through the side of fuel tank and then used as a makeshift syphon. That will require an expensive environmental clean-up, the cost of which will likely fall upon beleaguered contractors.
With current anti-fuel theft solutions based upon recovery and deterrent rather than actual prevention, it seems that fuel thefts have now become the crime du jour. And aside from employing canine and human security – again at the contractors’ cost – there is currently precious little anyone can do about it.
It would be nice to think that introduction of electric-powered machines and the advent of hydrogen-fuelled equipment might help stem the tide.
But, based on previous experience, it is likely that criminal gangs are developing electricity and hydrogen theft techniques as we speak.