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Op-Ed: The Great Fuel Robbery

By Alexander Baron     Oct 18, 2011 in Business
Monday night's BBC 'Panorama' programme was about fuel related crimes, from simple theft of petrol to some quite sophisticated scams.
Some crimes fall into the whodunnit category, many crimes from stranger murders to simple acts of vandalism have no rational motive. There is absolutely no mystery about the motives for any of these crimes which can be anything from a simple forecourt drive-off to a complex organised fraud. The first person featured in this programme was interviewed in Strangeways Prison. He was stealing petrol from “gas stations” as our American cousins say, but big time. He would hire a car in his own name, then affix a false number plate lifted from a similar car, and fill up, and up, and up, including cans in the back. Then he would simply drive off without paying and sell the petrol, making thousands of pounds in the process.
It is easy to see why this happy chap had no trouble finding willing buyers for his booty; according to the programme, 60% of the price of petrol is tax, and three quarters of companies in the transport industry who have recently instructed insolvency firms cited the cost of fuel as the reason for their going under. These companies are more likely to purchase other forms of fuel on the black market, but the story is basically the same. When times are hard, more and more people will steal. When they are very hard, otherwise honourable men will do all manner of things they wouldn't in times of mere austerity. And don't let's even think about what otherwise honourable women will do.
So whose fault is it that the price of fuel is so high? Not us, say the companies, and they may just be telling the truth. The British Government taxes fuel more heavily than our European competitors, but where does all this money go? Ask Alessio Rastani and his chums in the banking and trading sectors.
One half-good thing may have come out of this, in Northern Ireland, former terrorists from both sides of the divide are said to have buried old differences and formed criminal gangs to trade in illegal fuel. Make money not war?
Apart from the heavy fines and occasional prison sentences that await the black marketeers, there can also be the not so little problem of engine damage suffered by customers who purchase lower grade fuel that is intended for use by non-compatible vehicles.
Throughout this programme, the presenter alludes to the black marketeers as criminals; technically they may be, but as Chris Tame said, taxation is theft. He might have added extortionate taxation is doubly so.
What is the solution? Tell the government to stuff its tax, tell the bankers to stuff their deficit and oh, forward to a world without oil in a fleet of hydrogen cars!
The Great Fuel Robbery can be found here at present, but if you can't download it for any reason, watch out for it on YouTube.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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