CAMERAS that recognise number plates have helped contribute to a huge fall in petrol thefts, it has been claimed.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are one of the tools used to tackle the offence of “bilking”, where motorists drive off without paying for fuel.

Regular CCTV cameras, warning signs and a crackdown by police on car crime has also contributed, according to Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire petrol station firms.

Figures obtained by the Oxford Mail show “drive off” incidents fell in Oxfordshire from 1,342 in 2010/11 to 759 in 2011/12.

The 43 per cent drop was even higher in Oxford, where thefts fell 54 per cent from 387 to 177 in the two years.

While companies declined to say how much they had spent on such cameras, a number acknowledged their usefulness. The information of any car who fails to pay is fed into a central system which alerts other petrol stations and the police.

Rizwan Mohamed, manager of Yarnton Service Station in Woodstock Road, believed ANPR cameras have proved an effective deterrent.

He said the ANPR cameras record number plates, flagging up suspicious or stolen plates to sales staff.

Mr Mohamed added: “Compared to last year it has gone down. The sign says clearly that we have ANPR and they will be trapped.”

Martin Townsend, team leader at Tesco Express on the A40 at Eynsham, said: “The recognition systems are helping and the staff are being trained to be more vigilant.

“We are following up leads and working more closely with police.”

Police believe tackling other forms of car crime have also contributed to the fall in bilking.

In Oxford, vehicle thefts fell from 354 in 2009/10 to 190 last year while thefts from vehicles went from 810 to 745 in these years.

Oxford police commander Supt Chris Sharp said: “We have had considerable success with regard to vehicle crime, in particular theft of vehicles, and the detection of such offences.

“Often theft of petrol is linked to offenders who steal vehicles and number plates.

“We do occasionally run targeted operations to tackle the issue.

“Petrol stations have also played their part, with better preventative systems.”

Nagalingam Kumar, who runs Judds Garage in Woodstock, agreed convictions were putting off would-be thieves.

He said: “This year we have only had three thefts.”

Sainsbury’s spokesman Rebecca Young “We work closely with the local police to deter offenders and operate CCTV to help reduce fuel thefts.”