Pensioner, 87, among the victims of gangs stealing fuel from homes

Caption: Posh retiree, 87, among victims of 'soulless' gangs siphoning heating oil from country houses Credit Getty

Mobile gangs of thieves drain costly heating oil from rural homes before escaping through the road network (Image: Getty)

Gangs of thieves are draining heating oil from tanks belonging to rural residents as fuel prices continue to rise.

In one case, thieves stole a pensioner’s entire supply from her home three weeks after she filled it at a cost of £2,000.

Jean Piper, 87, is one of the victims of the rising tide of theft that is plaguing the countryside and an already heavily strained agricultural industry.

Jean, who lives in West Devon, discovered the tank was empty when she went to make a meal and her stove wasn’t working.

The cost of theft from properties across the country has doubled between 2021 and 2022, with rates showing overall crime in rural areas also rising, reported yesterday.

According to research by NFU Mutual, the number of fuel raids increases even more, to an average of one per day when farms are included.

Raids occur as homeowners struggle to pay their bills amid the cost of living crisis. The cost of heating oil rose from £378 per 1,000 liters in 2020 to £940 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Posh retiree, 87, among victims of 'soulless' gangs siphoning heating oil from rural homes

Jean Piper is among those who were attacked by thieves preying on victims living in rural areas (Image: NFU Mutual)

Jean first thought there was a glitch when she discovered her Rayburn stove and heating were not working.

The tank had to be replenished after an incident in May last year.

“It’s a lot of money to pay again, but more than that, I was really shaken by the thought that someone had trespassed on my property,” said Jean. “I’m still very nervous about it, and there’s a lot of money at stake.”

The oil is supplied from the country road, so Jean suspects that whoever emptied the tank at the bottom of her backyard saw it being refilled. Her daughter saw a white van there around the time of the theft, but they’re not sure if it was related.

They suspect the thieves likely attacked under the cover of night before fleeing down the alley. Jean reported the theft to the police and NFU Mutual settled her claim for the stolen oil.

It is currently in the process of installing security lighting at the front and rear of the property.

Charles Farquhar discovered that a suspected organized gang had raided his home in Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, leaving with 600 liters of fuel.

Farquhar, 48, was alerted to a raid in broad daylight last April thanks to footprints at the back of his property.

“You feel angry and violated,” he said.

Pensioner, 87, among victims of

Charles Farquhar believes an organized gang drained his fuel tank during a raid in broad daylight (Image: Charles Farquhar/NFU Mutual)

“They just turned around, emptied the van and left.

“Prices are high, you work for a salary to survive, then someone comes along and doesn’t care and steals your oil.”

The farm manager paid £730 for the fuel change and although he was insured he believes he has fallen victim to an organized gang who remain at large and could strike again.

Fuel theft from homes has doubled from 34 to 68 in 2022, according to NFU Mutual. The total cost, assessed on the basis of claims, increased by £60,000 to £207,000 year-on-year.

While the numbers seem low, they are considered significant by the rural insurer, given the relatively small number of households with a fuel tank.

The figures complement the company’s figures showing crime in rural areas, which also includes thefts of ATVs and livestock, which increased by more than 40% in the first quarter of 2022.

Rural crime in numbers: 2021


COST: £1.5m

Down 47% from 2020 thanks to targeted support to police operations


COST: £9.1m

2020 figures in line with 2020 figures despite broader fall in crime costs in rural areas


COST: £2.6m

An increase of 87% compared to the previous year


COST: £2.4m

An increase of 3.7% compared to 2020

(Source: NFU Mutual/Rural Crime Report)

Andrew Chalk, Rural Insurance Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “We know from years of experience helping members fight theft in rural areas that when prices go up, theft goes up with them, and sadly this is confirmed by the latest figures.

“Criminals are opportunists and NFU Mutual has reports of thieves siphoning home heating oil from storage tanks, sometimes attacking the same property more than once.

“Because fuel orders often come with long delivery times, thefts can soullessly leave homeowners without heating or hot water when temperatures are at their lowest, not to mention damaging storage tanks and risking contamination.

“And because isolated rural homes are more dependent on these fuels for heating, knowing that their property could be targeted by thieves can make homeowners and their families feel vulnerable.”

Pensioner, 87, among victims of

Homeowners are being advised to increase security as criminal gangs look to cash in on rising fuel prices (Image: NFU Mutual)

Homeowners are advised to take precautions, including covering or hiding storage tanks.

“Criminals don’t like to be seen, heard or apprehended, so measures such as installing alarms in the tank, security lighting or CCTV, and making sure the property is not easily accessible should help,” said Chalk.

“We know that thieves often target several properties in an area, so we encourage people to share any suspicious sightings with the local community and police.

“We recommend joining local neighborhood watch programs and there are also many farm and rural watch groups on social media that are quickly becoming the eyes and ears of the village.”

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police said of the Elworth theft: “We were contacted on 28 April 2022 about a large amount of oil being stolen from a property in Elsworth.

“Unfortunately, due to lack of evidence, no arrests have been made in connection with the theft.”

The National Rural Crime Unit is due to be launched on April 1 and will aim to “keep our rural communities safe and make these areas hostile to criminals.” The task force plans to counter “emerging threats” such as the international machinery black market, which is said to be behind the thefts of machinery, GPS systems and farm vehicles.

The government says it is “committed to fighting rural crime” and is recruiting additional police officers in England and Wales as part of its upskilling scheme and supporting targeted action.

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