Nine con artists have been arrested for their part in a suspected £3 million fuel fraud.

Seven men and two women from across Southern England have been arrested during an operation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Around 170 HMRC officers, assisted by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Sussex and Hampshire Police, searched 12 residential premises, five business premises and two petrol stations in East and West Sussex, Kent, Essex, Hampshire and Somerset yesterday.

Innocent motorists are filling their cars up with what they believe to be diesel, but it is actually counterfeit fuel. 

As a result, the dodgy diesel is wrecking their vehicles. 

The ongoing investigation is focused on the suspected illegal purchase and sale of rebated kerosene and biofuel to motorists as duty-paid road diesel.

It is believed the fraud is worth an estimated £3 million in unpaid excise duty and VAT.

David Margree, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC, said: “Motorists need to be aware that using illicit fuel can damage and destroy vehicle engines, has a detrimental effect on legitimate fuel traders and deprives the government of money used to fund public services.

“Anyone with information about fuel fraud or people involved in the sale, storage or distribution of illicit fuel can contact the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.”

All those arrested were questioned by HMRC investigators and released on bail while enquiries continue.

Of the nine arrested, five are from Sussex. 

Three men - aged 45, 46, and 67 - from Hastings are among the group as well as a 48-year-old woman from Pulborough and a 63-year-old woman also from Hastings. 

If you think you've been affected by dodgy diesel, email or call (01273) 544531.