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Rural crime hits eight-year high

Rural crime is at its highest level for eight years with thieves targeting high value agricultural equipment, according to new figures. The National Farmer's Union says every part of the UK has been affected.

Rural crime has reached record levels with thieves targeting equipment, vehicles and livestock.

Research by NFU Mutual revealed rural crime has cost the UK economy £54.3m in 2019. This is an increase of nearly 9 per cent on the previous year and the highest cost recorded in eight years.

Data from across the country showed that for the second year running, the sharp rise was driven by thefts of high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles. Livestock theft also increased in 2019, with organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to be entering the food chain illegally.

Thieves are increasingly targeting high-value items rather than property.

The end of production of the Land Rover Defender, which has now become a cult vehicle in the USA, has made it highly desirable to thieves who are stealing whole vehicles or parts for the black market.

The other big growth area has been in the theft of GPS systems which can be resold both in the UK and abroad. They are used by farmers to achieve pinpoint accuracy for sowing and spraying fields.

Suffolk Constabulary is investigating one incident last month where thieves at one farm drilled their way into five tractors and stole GPS systems valued at £100,000.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary is investigating the theft of GPS units from 11 tractors on one farm.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire said: “We’re encouraging farmers to remove the screens and other valuables when leaving their vehicles and, where possible, parking them in secure, alarmed buildings.”

Quad bikes and ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) worth £2.6m were stolen across the country. They have no registration plates and are easy to transport, making them an easy target. A quad bike was the target for the thugs who were convicted last week of killing PC Harper last year.

Livestock theft rose by nearly 15 per cent year on year.

Lincolnshire saw the biggest increase in thefts at 11.1 per cent followed by Scotland and the North East.

The figures do not include activities such as hare coursing or property damage such as lead stealing and architectural theft.

NFU Mutual warned that without the sharing of intelligence the cost would be far higher and that as a post-COVID-19 recession hits, rural crime is set to increase.

Jim McLaren, Chairman of NFU Mutual, said: “Rural crime continued to grow last year as organised criminals targeted the countryside."

But he added: “Increased use of tracking devices is helping police recover more stolen tractors. Information from farm watch groups is helping to bring criminals to justice.”   

Forces across the country are increasing their capability with rural crime teams. Gloucestershire has increased its fleet of quad bikes, Cambridgeshire is using drones and Sussex has invested in more rural crime officers.

Surrey Police has specialist Wildlife and Rural Crime Officers, supported by a positive relationship with the RSPCA and organisations including the National Farmers’ Union.

Surrey saw an increase of rural incidents of 0.6 per cent.

Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey David Munro said: “The impact of rural crime is far from just financial. Every crime has the potential to be deeply upsetting and leave victims isolated. As we enter a period of increasing uncertainty, I’ll be continuing this attention on rural crime as part of my promise to make Surrey an even safer place to live and work.”

Read the full report by NFU Mutual HERE  

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