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Businessman hunts offenders who stole $23,000 in fuel after being snubbed by police

Author
Nathan Morton, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Jan 2023, 3:56pm
Photo / Dean Purcell
Photo / Dean Purcell

Businessman hunts offenders who stole $23,000 in fuel after being snubbed by police

Author
Nathan Morton, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 12 Jan 2023, 3:56pm

A Christchurch business owner has turned detective to clear a $23,000 fuel bill after enormous charges were racked up on a stolen fuel card.

It’s a case that caused significant heartache for him and his “community-minded” company, as local police refused to investigate the matter further due to a lack of resourcing.

Business owner Shaun Rolston has since collected CCTV footage of the offenders filling drums of petrol, linked debit card spending to the fuel theft and even located two vans allegedly connected to the offenders.

Yet in their most recent email to Rolston, police have told him to “manage your expectations” as they claimed there were no further lines of inquiry.

Rolston’s company, Happy Hire, had purchased six new trucks and corresponding fuel cards in August last year, they were parked in their newly leased yard in Waltham.

Several months later, Rolston received a call from the fuel card provider to alert him to “a significant amount” of fuel that had been spent on one of the cards.

Rolston’s company Happy Hire had purchased six new trucks and corresponding fuel cards in August last year. Photo / Supplied

Rolston’s company Happy Hire had purchased six new trucks and corresponding fuel cards in August last year. Photo / Supplied

After chasing the card, the total expenditure to date was revealed to total $23,933.93 - spent in only two weeks.

The fuel card in question had been stolen from inside one of the parked trucks, the provider admitted there were internal faults that led to spending charges exceeding a limit set on them.

Rolston went to a local Christchurch police station to file a report, he said the staff were easy to deal with and were initially keen to jump straight into investigating the matter.

The enthusiasm, however, seemed to wear off weeks later - when a police detective got in touch with Rolston to inform him there wasn’t a lot they could do.

“He said straight away ‘I don’t know why this got passed to me, I don’t normally deal with this’ which is a terrible way to start a conversation,” Rolston told the Herald.

“[The detective] said we get thousands of these cases a day and they don’t have the resources, that it was unlikely it would get passed any further.”

To Rolston’s surprise, the detective went on to recommend the local businessman investigate the matter on his own - to gather evidence on the police’s behalf.

“I’m not a detective, as much as they call me ‘community Shaun’,” the business owner said.

“I don’t have the same legal authorities or resources the police have, I was just told it was in the too-hard basket and not worth their time.”

Despite claims of not being a detective, Rolston pulled investigation skills out of thin air to produce an impressive amount of evidence to stack against the offenders.

The fuel card in question had been stolen from inside one of the parked trucks, Photo / Supplied

The fuel card in question had been stolen from inside one of the parked trucks, Photo / Supplied

As a result of digging, the Christchurch man has compiled several photos from CCTV at local Z Petrol Stations - showing men using the card and filling up numerous petrol drums, as well as their own cars.

The CCTV footage, which the Herald has seen, shows at least two different men wearing hi-vis jackets and caps entering the card’s details at the pump.

Rolston also commenced drive-bys of the Waltham yard to investigate any ongoing dodgy behaviour.

During these, he spotted a van parked on the property which was seen in the petrol station’s CCTV footage, carrying several blue petrol drums in the back.

His sleuthing skills led to police confiscating two vans connected to the alleged offenders, the vans are currently being analysed for prints.

The businessman even linked a connection between an offender’s card use at a petrol station and potentially their personal debit card - which they used to purchase separate items.

“I asked police if we could track the card to the person using it, but they said they’d need a court order and it would take too much time,” he said.

On the CCTV footage, police told Rolston in an email they were unable to identify any of the offenders using the card due to their concealed faces and nondescript clothing.

Rolston asked to post the CCTV photos on social media to ask for potential leads, police warned that doing so could be a crime.

“Police wouldn’t even put the photos up on their own social media, as they have with other burglary cases,” he said.

The authorities noted the larger sums of expenditures on the card - which Rolston said went as high as $1726 - were used at truck stops with no cameras at all.

“I can’t fathom that,” said Rolston.

“The trucks and vehicles using fuel cards aren’t protected by basic security systems, people know these systems and which truck stops to hit without cameras.”

An insurance battle to have the $23,000 bill covered is proving not to fall Rolston’s way.

“They asked me why the card wasn’t locked up in a safe - we run thirty vehicles across the country, how do I run a company like this if [the fuel cards] aren’t in the vehicle?”

Rolston most recently submitted potential evidence to police last Wednesday, noting a large quantity of fuel for sale on Facebook Marketplace.

In an email response on Thursday, police dismissed the notion of any serious suspicion by claiming Marketplace is “fraught with deception and disguise”.

The email suggested the best-case outcome given the evidence at hand was a conviction leading to only $1,500 in reparations.

“I don’t wish to discourage you from reporting suspicious activity and potential leads, only to help manage your expectations on what can realistically be achieved with the information,” the email read.

In an email, police suggested the best-case outcome given the evidence at hand was a conviction leading to only $1,500 in reparations. Photo / NZPA

In an email, police suggested the best-case outcome given the evidence at hand was a conviction leading to only $1,500 in reparations. Photo / NZPA

It’s a process that has frustrated Rolston, who at this stage faces the strong possibility of having to pay back the full $23,000 to the provider himself.

“It’s a kick in the guts after [the Covid-19 pandemic],” he said.

“We worked our butts off setting up testing stations and for supermarkets, you feel like someone is taking from you after such a difficult time.”

Rolston said he feels frustrated with the “broken” enforcement system, which he said needs to be improved to protect society.

“We talk about prevention, but how much prevention can I wrap around my company? We need faster captures and enforcement, it’s not my resources or skillset.”

When police were approached by NZME about Rolston’s situation, they confirmed there were no further lines of inquiry into the matter.

“Police understand the frustration this can cause, when complainants provide information to Police in good faith and officers are not able to progress it,” the statement said.

“However, we would continue to encourage people to provide us with information, and we will look to take it further when and if we are able to.”

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