Woman dies and her son is injured after chasing fuel thieves

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The Independent Online

A woman has died and her son was seriously injured while chasing fuel raiders caught stealing diesel from their farmhouse. The incident happened on Sunday night when the family confronted intruders at their property in Bishop Middleham, close to Tony Blair's former Sedgefield constituency in Co Durham.

Rosemary Dove, 68, collapsed and died at her home at East House Farm after dialling 999 and alerting relatives for help. She was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

Mrs Dove's husband, Frank, and son, Michael, were joined by neighbours in a dramatic pursuit across open fields, eventually cornering the thieves, police said. But when Michael, who is in his mid-40s, got out of his vehicle to confront the raiders, he suffered a head injury and a double fracture to his hip when he was knocked into a ditch by the thieves' pick-up truck as it sped through the farmers' cordon and escaped out of the field. Mr Dove was taken to hospital in North Tees, where his injuries were said to be non-life-threatening.

The family returned home to find Mrs Dove's body. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Harker, who is leading the investigation, said: "At this stage it's not clear exactly how many people were in the pick-up. We urgently need any help that will lead us to those involved in this tragic series of events, which have left the Dove family absolutely devastated."

The incident comes amid a striking increase in fuel thefts caused by spiralling prices at the pumps. Figures released by Durham Constabulary revealed the number of cases had risen in the first four months of this year to 184, compared with 102 in the same period last year. Though much of the rise was due to "drive-off" crimes, thefts from vehicles and fuel tanks had also increased. According to the agricultural insurers NFT Mutual, the number of claims for stolen low-tax "red" diesel soared by 30 per cent this year, with 50 claims for fuel worth £100,000.

Yesterday, friends and neighbours paid tribute to Mrs Dove, who had enjoyed a last meal with her husband at a local pub after driving back from an agricultural show in Scotland.

A neighbour, Ashley Dale, said: "Rosemary was a very, very lovely woman. She was very kind and was always a happy, smiling kind of lady. They are a very loving and caring family who are always pleasant and are very well liked."

Another resident said: "Diesel thefts have become common because of the rising prices. I don't know anyone who wouldn't have done the same in trying to stop them getting away."

Police said the couple became suspicious as they returned to the farm and spotted an unknown silver Mitsubishi-style pick-up truck on their premises. Further investigation revealed a man trying to steal diesel from a pump. He was described as white, of muscular build with short, dark brown hair and aged between 20 and 30 years old. He was wearing a check-style shirt. Police are appealing for information about him and the truck, which had an amber lighting bar on the roof.