A snow plough makes its way along the A66 near BroughRural homeowners have been urged to protect supplies of heating oil after new figures showed a huge increase in thefts.

Insurance firm NFU Mutual said the number of claims for oil theft doubled in the first six months of the year, with the East of England the worst-hit region.

The cost of dealing with the thefts also soared, partly due to the expense of cleaning up environmental damage caused by thieves, who often returned for a second time to steal replacement oil, according to the report.

Nicki Whittaker, of NFU Mutual, said: "Thieves will often damage oil tanks in the process of removing the oil. Leaking oil can contaminate both the soil and groundwater, and the homeowner may then be responsible for any specialist clean-up operation.

"Unfortunately while oil prices remain high, rural homeowners will remain a target. Rural homes with no access to a mains gas supply have no choice but to struggle with rising oil prices, and the additional cost of repeat thefts and potential contamination issues are an added worry for rural dwellers."
© 2011 Press Association