As rising inflation sent fuel prices spiralling, a rural insurer's figures show that theft of oil, diesel and other fuels from homeowners doubled last year.

One such theft was experienced by a retired farmer's wife near Plymouth, Jean Piper.

Thieves emptied Jean's heating oil tank of £2,000 worth of fuel just three weeks after she had filled it.

She said: “It’s a lot of money to pay out again, but more than that it really shook me up to think someone had come onto my property.

“I still feel very nervous about it now, as well as it being a lot of money to lose.”

Jean knew something was wrong when she went to make a meal and her Rayburn cooker didn’t work.

She then realised that the heating wouldn’t switch on either and rang an engineer, assuming there was a fault somewhere.

“The heating engineer said it’s no wonder it’s not working you haven’t got any oil, but I told him that wasn’t possible, as I had not long had it filled,” said Jean.

“They deliver the oil from the main road so I can only assume whoever stole it may have seen the tank being filled up. My daughter said she had spotted a white van there about the same time so maybe it was connected with that, but I can’t be sure.”

The heating oil tank is at the bottom of the back garden next to the country lane and Jean believes the thieves probably struck under cover of darkness, before escaping down the lane.

NFU Mutual figures show theft of oil, diesel and other fuels from homeowners doubled last year, with the average cost of fuel theft from households being over £3,000 in 2022 - an increase of more than £1,200 on 2021.

Andrew Chalk, rural insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “We know from years of experience helping members fight rural theft that when prices rise, thefts rise with them, and sadly this is borne out by these latest figures.

“Criminals are opportunistic and NFU Mutual has had reports of thieves siphoning off domestic heating oil from storage tanks, sometimes targeting the same property more than once.

“With fuel orders often coming with lengthy delivery times, thefts can callously leave homeowners without heating or hot water when temperatures are at their lowest, not to mention damaging the storage tanks and risking pollution.

“And with isolated rural homes more dependent on these fuels to heat their homes, the knowledge that their property could be a target for thieves can make homeowners and their families feel vulnerable.

“Thieves are always looking for opportunities, so it helps to obscure storage tanks from view. Criminals also don’t like to be seen, heard or held up, so measures like fitting tank alarms, security lighting or CCTV, and making sure the property isn’t easily accessible should help dissuade criminals.

“We know that thieves will often target several properties within an area, so we're encouraging people to share information about suspicious sightings with their local community and police.

"We recommend joining local Neighbourhood Watch schemes and there are also a number of farm watch and rural watch groups on social media which are fast becoming the eyes and ears of the countryside.”