A Garston man has avoided a jail sentence after admitting using stolen number plates to drive off from petrol stations without paying more than 20 times.

Richard Powell pleaded guilty to four bilkings offences and two thefts of number plates and asked for a further 20 bilkings and 9 theft offences to be taken into consideration when he appeared at St Albans Magistrates Court on March 6.

The court heard that between November and February, Powell stole number plates from vehicles in Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Berkhamsted, King Langley, Watford and Abbots Langley, which he attached to his uninsured Volkswagen Golf to steal fuel from petrol stations in Hemel Hempstead, Redbourn, St Albans, Berkhamsted and Watford.

Following an investigation, the 28-year-old from Hemming Way, was arrested on 16 February and four canisters full of fuel were found in his vehicle. He later admitted the offences to police.

On Thursday he was given a suspended sentence of 24 months with a 12 months supervision order.

He was ordered to attend an education programme and do 80 hours of unpaid work. Powell was also ordered to pay costs and compensation amounting to £908.86 and received 8 points on his licence for driving without insurance.

Following the sentencing, Police Sergeant Adele Hopkin, who led the investigation, said: "It was a very complex investigation, because his offending spanned other areas of Hertfordshire, but we painstakingly pieced together each crime, scouring CCTV, recording number plates and matching them up to recent crimes. We were able to then identify Powell, who in total stole over £1,585 fuel, which we believe he was selling on. 

"Powell thought he could evade police by stealing and changing number plates. I’d remind people of their responsibility of paying for their fuel. Police take this crime, and associated crime, such as theft from vehicles, very seriously.

"His arrest form part of a wider crackdown led by the Hemel Hempstead Safer Neighbourhood Team on people who people who don’t pay for their fuel."

"A number of other arrests have been made recently and I’d urge people to think twice before committing this type of crime or they may find us knocking on their door."