TWO men were last night being quizzed by detectives investigating the theft of tens of thousands of litres of fuel from one of the main underground fuel pipes in the UK.

Police swooped and arrested the pair, aged 32 and 34, on the evening of Easter Sunday on suspicion of conspiring to steal fuel from Esso.

A major investigation, involving several agencies, hs been launched to find out how more than 30,000 litres of diesel was siphoned from under the ground.

The major pipeline runs from Esso Fawley Refinery through the Hampshire countryside and alongside MOD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, extending as far as Birmingham airport and Seisdon in Staffordshire.

The 14-inch-wide Midline pipe is 130 miles long and is multi-functioning – enabling petrol, diesel and aviation fuel to be transported throughout the country.

It is one of Britain’s ten underground pipelines which is operated remotely from a control room in Staines.

The probe was launched on Thursday evening last week when the owner of land at Mill Farm Industrial Estate in West Wellow discovered large quantities of the diesel and alerted police.

Because of its enormity, it’s understood the fuel must have been extracted from the pipe over some time.

Throughout the Easter weekend, numerous organisations have been on site as well as engineers from Esso who were working to retrieve the fuel.

Yesterday fire crews from Romsey, Eastleigh, Hightown and Southsea had a permanent presence at a pig farm near to the Woodington Road industrial estate, where they were keeping a watching brief as work continued to fix the breached pipe.

Specialist oil spill teams were also in place as a precaution.

Environment Agency workers have also been on site, assessing any danger to the public, along with staff from Fisher German Chartered Surveyors who lead on pipeline management for Esso.

A spokesman for Esso said: “We are assisting police with their inquiries following the discovery of a store of fuel in the Romsey area.

“Early indications suggest that the fuel may have come from a nearby Esso pipeline. Investigations continue into whether this is the case.

“Esso is committed to the very highest standards of safety.”

The spokesman added: “The pipeline has been closed down and specialists are working to check it and if necessary effect any repair.

“We will not resume operations of the pipeline until this work is completed.”

He was unable to speculate on the amount of fuel lost, but reassured customers supplies would continue to run on alternative pipes.

The two men being held at a Hampshire police station were arrested in Salisbury.

Detectives at Lyndhurst CID are leading the investigation and told the Daily Echo that there were multiple lines of inquiry under way following the find.

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101.