POLICE are urging pubs, restaurants and takeaways in Craven to be on their guard and increase their security following a spate of used cooking oil theft.

Officers are investigating three offences - all taking place over three days last week.

Police say although a motive has not yet been established, it is known that used cooking oil has been targeted by organised criminals in other parts of the UK to use in diesel cars.

The first incident took place outside a pub in Cracoe at around 3.20am on Thursday, last week (May 19), followed by two other incidents in Grassington and in Settle.

A police spokesperson said: "Unknown offenders stole a barrel of used cooking oil and a child’s toy sit-on car outside the pub in Cracoe. A white van was seen near the property at the time of the incident.

"Then on Saturday, May 21 at around 8.30am, three men in a black 02-reg Mercedes Vito panel van made off empty handed after being challenged by staff members at the rear of a pub in Grassington. Just after 2pm the same day, the black van arrived at the rear of a pub in Settle where a full barrel of used cooking oil was taken. It is believed it was poured into another container before it was placed in the van."

Police say officers are continuing to make enquiries to identify those involved.

Witnesses or anyone with information about suspicious activity related to the incidents are urged to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option one, and speak to the force control room quoting reference number 12220088203.

Details can also be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 quoting the same reference number.

In the meantime, pubs, restaurants and takeaways are being advised to make sure their premises are secure and that used cooking oil is kept in a safe place before it is collected for recycling.

Police say businesses should ask suppliers for locking barrels. Many cooking oil barrels have a securing ring around the top which can be padlocked to prevent siphoning. Officers also advise:

* Ensure CCTV cameras and security lighting are installed to help deter thieves

* Keep used oil barrels indoors if it is safe do so, or ensure they are out of reach of opportunistic thieves

* Regular monitoring of used cooking oil levels will indicate if a theft has occurred. Alarms can also be installed in containers if it falls below a certain level

* Lastly, motorists filling their tanks with such products are warned that it is likely to be very harmful to modern diesel engines with fuel injectors and emission control devices put at serious risk of clogging.