Wednesday, August 10, 2022

After Covid: Thieves make up for lost time with raids on farming industry

Following two years of decreasing rural theft during the pandemic, the start of 2022 has seen a sharp rise in rural crime as the cost of living crisis hits the farming industry.

Initial indications from NFU Mutual’s 2022 Rural Crime Report reveal the first quarter of 2022 has seen thieves making up for lost time with costs more than 40% higher than the same period last year. The cost of rural theft was an estimated £40.5m across the UK last year with thieves targeting fuel, livestock and kit.

Well-organised criminals continued to plague farmyards stealing high-value farm machinery as the cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at more than £9m last year.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “It is clear from the NFU Mutual’s report that farms are once again being heavily targeted by criminals after a short lull during the pandemic. With machinery and fuel theft on the rise, we urge the next Policing Minister to see the proposed Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill through to fruition.

“Rural crime has huge financial implications for farm businesses and it also leaves farming families feeling vulnerable, intimidated, and in some cases directly threatened. This all comes at a time when the industry is already facing numerous other pressures, not least soaring production costs and challenging weather conditions.

“Taking a joined-up approach and establishing a cross-governmental task force – including Defra, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council & the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners – will be crucial if we are to prevent further impacts from crime on farm businesses, both financially and emotionally.”

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Our latest claims figures warn that rural theft is quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years. We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption.

“With prices of essential farm equipment such as tractors and quads rising fast and the cost of diesel soaring over the past year, there’s little doubt that criminals will be trying to steal from farms. We also know that essentials of rural living like heating oil tanks will only become more attractive to thieves as costs rise. A recent poll by NFU Mutual reveals that 89% of respondents believe inflation will lead to an increase in rural crime.

“Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural homeowners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location. The knowledge that determined thieves are scouring the countryside looking for targets and returning to carry out night-time raids can lead to sleepless nights for people in remote areas.”

Last year NFU Mutual invested £430,000 in rural crime initiatives. This includes support for an agricultural vehicle theft unit at the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service  which recovered stolen vehicles and farm machinery worth £2.6m last year. The unit delivers intelligence, training, and works directly with police forces across the country to combat rural crime, in addition to joint international operations to seize stolen machinery from overseas.

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