Fuel prices have hit a new record high - despite drops in wholesale costs.

Figures from data firm Experian Catalist show the average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on Sunday was 163.5p, while diesel was 173.4p.

Pump prices have been soaring over recent months amid a global oil price surge that was kicked off by the recovery in global demand after pandemic restrictions ended and exacerbated as Russia invaded Ukraine.

A month ago, pump prices were 148.0p per litre for petrol and 151.6p per litre for diesel.

It comes as the number of motorists driving off without paying for fuel has rocketed in the last three months as forecourt prices rise on a near-daily basis.

Oil prices plummeted last week, leading to a cut in wholesale costs for fuel retailers.

The price per barrel of Brent crude, the most commonly used way of measuring the UK’s oil price, reached $139 on March 7 - a 14 year high.

However hopes that other oil-producing nations will step in to make up the shortfall, as well as talks to end the war, have seen the pressure ease a little.

The price plummeted to $109 two days later, and remains around that level.

Covid-19 lockdowns in China - threatening to dampen demand from the world's second biggest economy - appears to have further impacted on the price on Monday, with Brent crude dipping to less than $108.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said the average price of petrol “appears to be on a collision course with £1.65 a litre”.

He went on: “While there will almost certainly be more rises this week, drivers should soon get some respite from pump prices jumping by several pence a litre every day as oil and wholesale prices appear to have settled.

“The price hikes seen over the weekend are still a result of the oil price rise which began at the start of the month and peaked early last week.

“As the oil price has now fallen back, we should hopefully reach the peak and start to see prices going the other way to reflect the big drop in wholesale costs seen at the end of last week, subject to no further spikes in the barrel price this week.”

The Herald:

Fuel retailers are reporting a sharp rise in “drive-off” thefts, which have increased by 215% since December 2021.

There are an estimated 1.7m cases of drivers failing to pay for fuel - also known as bilking - every year. In 2019 such crimes cost the industry £88 million but the body which monitors offences predicts that this could reach £100m this year if current trends continue.

Claire Nichol, managing director of the British Oil Security Syndicate (Boss), which works to tackle such crimes, said after a drop linked to lockdown, incidents were returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Figures released by Boss for late 2021 showed there had been a decline in the number of “drive-offs” but that the value of the crimes had increased as fuel prices rose. Since then, the number of offences as well as the value has risen as prices have rocketed at forecourts.

AA fuel price spokesman Luke Bosdet said the 10.6p per litre slump in wholesale costs last week produced “bizarre price anomalies”.

He explained: “In one town this weekend, filling a tank at one forecourt was more than a pound cheaper than directly across the road at another.

“They normally match each other but the petrol station resupplied earlier in the week at the much higher price was nearly deserted while its neighbour had a small queue.

“Unless the price of oil takes off again this week, the AA expects these wild pump prices to stabilise this week and even fall back at fuel stations that were supplied at peak prices but will eventually get cheaper deliveries.”

The soaring cost of fuel has seen calls for the Government to cut VAT to ease pressure on drivers. There has also been calls for a windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies as well as the biggest energy suppliers to help households and energy-intensive industries to cope with higher fuel bills.