Three nights ago, probably around 2am, a truck trundled into a tiny, sleepy village in Oxfordshire. Seemingly unnoticed, disturbing nobody, the highly skilled operatives went about their work. In just a few minutes they drained the contents of a heating OIL tank that is sat in a garden next to the tiny country road and then disappeared with their extremely profitable booty.
The theft of heating OIL is a serious rural issue. It’s a pernicious, evil crime with huge social and environmental consequences, committed by organised gangs, against which householders have next to nothing to protect themselves and, as if to magnify the challenge, there isn’t a police force in the UK that has developed a single process to combat the crime. Worse still these recessionary times and the escalating price of the product mean that this crime is on the increase.
The following night – about the same time – they came back! The risk to reward ratio of this crime is so firmly stacked in favour of the criminals they have become extremely brazen. Their intention was of course to repeat the successful activity of the night before. However, a young lady heard some shunting noises, switched her bedroom light on and stuck her head out of the window to see what was occurring. In that moment she foiled a crime. Within seconds in a flurry of activity the truck was out of there and heading for the M40 – less than five minutes away. Not knowing what she had seen or disturbed the crime went unreported.
By the following morning the peaceful village became aware that over two nights they had been targeted by OIL thieves and seemingly they had all become potential victims of an organised crime. For the family that lost their OIL they have to face the issue that the energy they had bought has gone – over 1000 litres would probably have cost approximately £700. I ask the question: how would you feel if you had prepaid for the energy that heats your home – mains gas or electricity – to the sum of £700 and then it had been stolen? Difficult to comprehend isn’t it? That is the daily concern that is unique to heating OIL users. Living rurally is often tranquil, stunning, life-enhancing…what about vulnerable and isolated too?
So what of the other residents, what if the thieves plan to return? It is actually much worse than that. With the word out, investigations occurring, it transpired that several weeks ago two other properties lost their OIL in the same night – over 2500 litres between them. Furthermore, sightings of suspicious vehicles that nobody thought too much of at the time suddenly become part of the web. What type of suspicious? The type where vehicles move around with no lights on in the early hours! Probably the worst thing about this is that there are people in that village right now that do not know that they have had some of their OIL stolen. That is not an educated guess, that is a fact: concerned by the events this week one of the victims from March went back to their tank to double check their levels and the shocking news is that they have been robbed a second time. This time another thousand litres. They have no idea when and they would not have found out until they ran out a lot faster than usual. This, you can surely see, is the stuff of criminal masterminds – stealing the same thing twice from the same place, almost undetected and with almost zero chance of being convicted. That makes me extraordinarily frustrated and deeply concerned.
When I started CBL I did so because I believe in community; I believe in the power of the group; and I absolutely know that the only way to solve many rural issues is to link those communities – particularly those off the mains gas network. Joining up the dots is probably the only way to give a voice to many that are vulnerable. I did NOT start it with the intention of making a living out of the crime of others. But this issue is now so serious that I feel duty bound to do whatever I can to solve it: how will I feel if it is my own village next and innocent people wake to find their energy has been stolen and I could have told them how to prevent that?
The solution: it took me two years of research to find it but there is a solution to this issue. Of course there is a cost, but it actually works out less than the cost of a thousand litres of heating OIL! Of greatest importance surely is that it takes away the concerns leaving peace of mind in its place.
What next? In less than two weeks I am going to that very village. A meeting has rapidly been organised so that we can talk about how the issue can be resolved. I very much hope we make that village the very first in the UK that will no longer be a chosen target for organised OIL theft. Thereafter, this is the time to take action and go out to many other communities to advise them on how to do the same, joining up the dots as we go and ridding our tranquil villages of this heinous crime. It seems if we don’t who else is going to?
The way I see it now is extremely simple: it is critically important to proactively do something, no everything, possible when the stunning becomes vulnerable…
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