A garage owner said he is 'disgusted' by the policy of Thames Valley Police not to challenge every person who drives off without paying for fuel, often called bilking.
Dealer principal Ian Govier, of Littlewick Green Service Station, discovered the surprising policy after a driver left the Bath Road garage without paying for £55 worth of petrol on Saturday, November 20. The theft was reported to the police using the registration number captured on CCTV.
But the driver returned on Wednesday and was shocked to learn what she had done.
Ian said: "She was very sorry and her son had been in hospital that day. She paid for both lots of fuel and we're satisfied it was a genuine mistake."
But Ian was surprised to discover the woman hadn't heard from the police at all in the 10 days following her 'crime'.
"They said the policy is that if it's a first offence then we won't follow it," said Ian, who has complained to TVP.
"What message are we sending to people? Come and help yourself - the police aren't going to do anything about it."
Ian, who is on the TVP committee liaison team, added: "I'm disgusted about it, I don't think that's acceptable - theft is theft."
A police spokesman said all reports of someone driving off without paying for fuel are recorded and reviewed by a research team who examine the full circumstances.
He said: "The fact someone drove off without paying for fuel does not automatically constitute a criminal offence, as there is the possibility it could be an honest mistake."
The police will take into account whether the vehicle or the vehicle owner has been involved in previous incidents or if the person made attempts to avoid payment. If they are satisfied 'on the balance of probabilities' that it is not a criminal act, the garages will be informed.
"In these cases it would not be appropriate to use police resources to pursue what is essentially a civil debt," he said.
The garage donated a Toyota Avensis to a neighbourhood policing team in August (pictured) and also works with police to combat number plate theft.
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