Stolen number plates used to illegally swipe petrol in Highgate

There is speculation the thefts could in part be due to the record high costs of petrol

�A spate of number plate thefts in Highgate has been fuelling robberies at a nearby petrol station, the Ham&High has learned.

Thieves have been targeting parked cars in and around the village, swiping their number plates and bolting them on to their own vehicles.

They then drive up to the Esso garage in Archway Road, near Highgate station, where they fill up their tank before speeding off without paying.

In a bid to catch the crooks, concerned staff at the petrol station have noted down the cars’ registration numbers, but because the plate is stolen the innocent owner is contacted instead.

Sergeant Leon Christodoulou, of the Highgate Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “This is a major concern in Highgate. We had a lot of these number plate theft vehicles going in and using this garage.

“In the normal course of things, some people just forget and they return and pay, while some people are just trying their luck by not paying. But then we have those who specifically go in there with a vehicle that has a stolen number plate.

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“This can mean that innocent victims get the accusations of theft, speeding tickets and hassle of sorting all this out.”

He added: “There is a link here of stealing the petrol and committing other offences including breaking into cars. Some of these people may go on to commit other crimes, so it is serious.”

Petrol prices hit a new high in March, costing an average of �6 per gallon, but police do not think the thefts can simply be put down to recession-hit opportunists who are feeling the pinch.

Sgt Christodoulou said: “We don’t know if this is linked to petrol prices, but the majority of people aren’t going to steal number plates and petrol just because prices are going up.”

Earlier this year, the Ham&High reported on motorists in nearby Crouch End who had petrol siphoned out of their car, but the number plate thefts represented a new and more sophisticated way of stealing petrol.

Highgate SNT has launched extra patrols to monitor the petrol station and officers are urging motorists to check their number plates before driving, and to attach tamper proof screws to them.