Police in Cornwall will no longer be sent to reports of customers leaving petrol stations without paying for fuel as the force continues to assess how to make the best of its resources.

Devon and Cornwall Police received 1,600 reports across the two counties and the Isles of Scilly in 2015 where a customer had left without paying for fuel from a garage forecourt, and said that these are not offences of fraud or theft, where there are indications of intent, but in many cases are a mistake which is made right as soon as the motorist is informed.

A spokesperson said: "The force will no longer be deploying officers to attend these reports and make contact with the member of the public on behalf of the garage, unless there is evidence of linked offending or vulnerability."

Instead police said garages are able to seek the vehicle owner’s details and pursue a civil recovery of the debt themselves and will be provided with the detail of how to do so on reporting.

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “We need to manage the demand and deploy our limited resources effectively. We are looking at doing things differently and working with our communities to prevent crime. This is part of protecting our resources to deal with those incidents which pose the greatest threat to our community.

“Businesses need to use the civil recovery options already available to recover their losses. We will always target and thoroughly investigate repeat offenders and incidents where vulnerability is identified. We will also continue to offer prevention advice to reduce the risk of these incidents occurring.”

The new process in case of fuel theft, which came into effect in April 2015, is that the incident is reported to police and a crime is recorded, an assessment is made in terms of risk, threat and harm, and a [roportionate level of investigation is decided.

Where the victim is vulnerable or the vehicle is known to police, has previously not paid for fuel or a small independent trader has been targeted on a number of occasions, the crime will be investigated by police, but for the majority of cases where the incident is deemed to be a genuine one- off mistake, the use of civil recovery will be encouraged and the garage will be provided with crime prevention advice.

The garage will be able to contact the DVLA for the registered keeper’s address so they can write to them asking for the fuel to be paid for. If reasonable attempts at civil recovery do not result in the driver paying, the case can be re-evaluated by police.

For crime prevention advice visit: www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/crime-prevention