A PIPELINE that carries fuel from Hampshire to Gatwick Airport has been targeted by thieves.

Police have launched an investigation after fuel was siphoned from the 120-mile long pipeline that carries fuel from Fawley Refinery to Purfleet Fuel Terminal and Gatwick.

The theft was committed near the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's official country residence in Kent.

Police said initial indications were that it had been ''a well organised crime''.

A gang drilled their way into the pipeline, which passes through Chevening House estate, shared by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

The fuel was funnelled along a 1,600 foot pipe to an area just outside the 3,500 acre estate near Sevenoaks, Kent, and pumped into huge plastic containers aboard lorries, it was reported.

About 30,000 litres of fuel a day was stolen over seven months, with a value of £8.3million at pumps.

The theft was discovered on Wednesday after new security measures were introduced on Esso's South East Pipeline.

It comes after thieves are believed to have siphoned thousands of litres of diesel at East Wellow near Romsey in April from another pipeline running from Fawley Refinery to Birmingham International Airport. Two men were arrested.

A Kent Police spokesman said: “Kent Police was notified of some tampering to a fuel pipeline in the Sevenoaks area on August 6.

“Initial indications are that this was a well organised crime, employing highly specialist techniques to siphon fuel from pipelines which operate at very high pressure.”

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: “We are aware of an ongoing police investigation.”

An Esso spokesman said: “We recently strengthened our pipeline security and monitoring procedures, and on Wednesday detected criminal damage at Chevening on the South East Pipeline, which transports fuel from the Fawley Refinery, Hampshire to Purfleet Fuel Terminal and Gatwick Airport.

“The section of pipeline was temporarily shut down to make repairs, which have now been completed.

“There has been no impact on supplies to customers.

“We strongly condemn the highly dangerous criminal action by those involved and are working closely with the police in their criminal investigations.”