THIEVES responsible for hundreds of forecourt fuel thefts every year are facing a police crackdown, it was announced this week.

Police and filling station owners are joining forces against petrol thieves - whom officers suspect are also responsible for burglary and car theft.

At just one garage there were 49 thefts in 1999 and 70 last year. With 20 petrol stations across the Langbaurgh area, this indicates the scale of the problem in Redcar and Cleveland.

Cleveland Police believe that by stopping criminals from stealing petrol they will prevent them from moving about to commit other crimes.

PC Mark Pitt, who is helping to co-ordinate the campaign, said: "We have real support from a number of garages. Many have improved their CCTV and installed other methods of crime reduction."

He said a forecourt-watch network had been developed to circulate crime details quickly to police and other garage operators.

A database detailing known offenders and vehicles will be used to pinpoint the most likely garages to be hit by thieves at any particular time.

"There is a real link between fuel theft and other crimes such as the theft of motor vehicles and burglary," PC Pitt said.

"If we can disrupt their activities here, it will have a profound knock-on effect elsewhere in the criminal arena."