Farmers see red over diesel thefts

Rocketing pump prices have triggered a new rural crime du jour - pinching low tax 'red' diesel.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

According to specialist agricultural insurance outfit NFU Mutual, thefts of the low tax fuel from farm premises rose 30% in the first five months of this year, with an average claim value of up to £30,000 a time.

But what is red diesel, and why would anyone want to pinch it?  Those of a more, shall we say, metropolitan bent may be surprised to discover that as well as the vast fruits of the Common Agricultural Policy and numerous planning exemptions, Britain’s farmers also enjoy a considerable tax break on the diesel they put in their tractors. How does around 65p a litre sound? That’s getting on for half the price that road users have to pay for their juice.  

There is a catch – the fuel is strictly for off-road use only, and is dyed a pinkish-red colour to deter those who would use it as ordinary road fuel. (Although MT’s resident country boy recalls that it’s legit to use the stuff to drive your tractor from one field another via the Queen’s highway. And if the pub or the local shop also happens to be en route, so be it. )

Apart from the fetching hue, it’s identical to regular pump diesel, a handy fact which has not escaped the criminal fraternity. After all, once you are away from all that pesky nature and safely back in town, the chances of being caught out are slim indeed. HMRC fuel testers may be a regular sight at agricultural shows and markets up and down the country, but you are more likely to see a combine harvester going round Hyde Park Corner than get your tank dipped by a man from the revenue.

So, pinch a few thousand litres of the stuff, high tail back to the big smoke and flog it for a quid a litre, no questions asked. The fuel of the future may not be green diesel after all – it could be red.

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