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Technology is driving high-value rural crime, insurer warns

Technology is enabling offenders to target and watch rural properties so they can steal quad bikes and other farm vehicles.

Offenders are using online maps, social media and more to carry out thefts of high value agricultural machinery, according to the industry’s insurer.

The cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m during the last year.

Its annual report found that although lockdown helped reduce rural offending overall by 20%, criminals are coming back with new tactics.

As well as using online mapping, techniques include joining social media groups such as community forums to find targets where quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles are located.

they are also getting better at beating immobilisers and other security measures.

The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) co-ordinates farm machinery theft intelligence between NFU Mutual, police forces, Border Force and Interpol.

DC Chris Piggott, Agriculture and Plant Field Intelligence Officer at NaVCIS, said: “Rural thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated to get round high levels of security on modern farm machinery.

“Thieves are also becoming even slicker stealing quad bikes - watching for hours to rush into farm yards and steal them when they are left unattended for a few minutes.”

Concern is mounting that the switch in offending created by lockdown may become a long-term trend.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets.  As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.”

Police and Crime Commissioners with significant rural communities are already adapting crime plan to reflect the change in offending patterns. They also want more national recognition so more resources can be allocated.

Derbyshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Angelique Foster said the report had helped raised awareness of the problems faced by rural communities.

"Just a few days ago I met with local farmers, vets and a member of the Derbyshire Rural Crime Team to hear about the issues in South Derbyshire.  I heard about the impact antisocial behaviour, hare coursing, fly tipping, theft of equipment, sheep worrying and damage to property has on local residents, particularly those affected,” she said. 

"The report echoes what people across the county have been telling me. Rural crime remains a problem. Crimes are committed by both organised gangs and opportunistic offenders. The cost, stress and inconvenience to those affected can be huge.”

Avon and Somerset's Rural Affairs Unit has a new drone  

Meanwhile Avon and Somerset Police Rural Affairs Unit has invested in dedicated drone to assist officers in preventing and detecting rural crime, including wildlife crime such as hare coursing.

The unit has recently undergone training to operate the drone, which will utilise thermal imaging to track offenders in isolated areas after dark.

Hare coursing, which involves setting dogs to chase hares, often takes place on land that has been entered illegally and can cause considerable harm to property, crops and livestock.

The practice was banned in the UK by the Hunting Act 2004 but illegal activity remains prevalent, particularly following the August harvest and during the autumn months.

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