October 2014: Countryside crime

by Mark Rowe

In August information released by NFU Mutual revealed that the annual cost of crime committed in our countryside during 2013 had increased by over five per cent with a significant rise in livestock rustling, taking on scenes last experienced in the American ‘wild west’ during the 1800s. With an estimated figure of around 90,000 cattle, pigs and sheep worth in the region of £6m being stolen from British farms its not too difficult to understand why farmers and rural insurers are worried about what the future holds.

It appears that the days of stealing a few sheep in the middle of the night from rural fields are long gone as organised rustlers simply take the whole flock and proceed to butcher it in unlicenced slaughter houses and then distribute it all within 24 hours. According to the NFU the north east of England has been the hardest hit with a year on rise of 68 per cent. Livestock thefts are being driven by rising meat prices and the difficulties facing the farming community in being able to protect their livestock adequately to deter rustlers. Information released by NFU Mutual outlines the following points of interest.

•Rural theft is estimated to have cost the UK economy £44.5m in 2013
•Driven up by thefts of high-value tractors worth up to £80,000
•Livestock theft up 25 per cent as thieves target sheep and cattle
•The eastern side of England and Northern Ireland has seen the largest rises

High-value tractors stolen for export, a substantial rise in sheep rustling and opportunist thefts of garden tools and ornaments have helped push up the cost of rural crime to near record levels. The NFU annual Rural Crime Survey revealed the cost of crime to the rural economy was up 5.2pc on 2012 figures. At an estimated £2.7m, Cambridgeshire bore the greatest cost of any UK county with a 38pc increase, while the East Midlands increased by 15pc and Northern Ireland by 12pc.

The cost of livestock theft rose 25pc across the UK, making 2013 one on the worst years on record. Northern Ireland, suffering a spate of cattle and sheep rustling, was the most seriously-affected part of the UK. Large-scale sheep rustling in the North West and North East of England led to the cost of livestock theft claims increasing by 68pc and 52pc respectively. Another new worrying crime trend identified in the survey was the theft of chemicals, such as fertilisers and pesticides, which can be taken in small or large volumes and exported quickly and easily. In one example, close to £20,000 of chemicals was taken in one raid alone. This type of theft also poses a different type of concern for police forces across the country engaged in the fight against terrorism.

The NFU Mutual surveyed its more than 300 local offices throughout rural areas of the UK to identify these current trends. According to the survey, the most commonly targeted items in the last twelve months have been fuel – such as domestic heating oil and farmers’ supplies of ‘red’ diesel – tools and quad bikes. Matthew Scott, Chief Claims Manager at NFU Mutual, said: “After a welcome fall, we’re starting to see the cost of crime in the countryside creep up towards its 2011 peak. Much of this increase is from tractors – often worth up to £80,000 – being targeted by organised criminal gangs. These machines are not only valuable, but they are also essential to running a farm and are sorely missed. But criminals are not just cold and calculated; they’re opportunist too. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and fight rural crime. We’ve already seen that by working with the police forces and manufacturers, tractor theft and organised rural crime can be tackled head-on. We’re also working with community groups and watch schemes to safeguard their local neighbourhoods and make life more difficult for rural thieves.”

The NFU Mutual states that it has invested more than £400,000 funding police specialist units to coordinate activity on agricultural vehicle crime. Whilst tools, quad bikes, oil and diesel, machinery and garden equipment remain as the top five things targeted, livestock, tractors & trailers, vehicles and equestrian equipment make up the top ten.

It was interesting to see from the data released by the NFU how the counties fared in their claims history. While this data is most revealing we should understand that not all property stolen from farms is either claimed for or reported to the police. Having family relations engaged in farming I know this only too well. With insurance premiums sky-high and equipment hard to positively identify one can understand why small farm operations sometimes feel it is futile to waste time going through the motions of the reporting and claims process. The estimated costs of rural crime to the top ten counties surveyed are:

1. Cambridgeshire (£2.7m)
2. Lincolnshire (£2.3m)
3. Essex (£2.1m)
4. Kent (£1.8m)
5. Lancashire (£1.8m)
6. Suffolk (£1.5m)
7. North Yorkshire (£1.5m)
8. Leicestershire (£1.3m)
9. Co. Antrim (£1.2m)
10. Somerset (£1.2m)

Why the increase?
The fact that a lot of this crime is in isolated rural locations means that both organised criminals and just opportunists quickly identify quick wins with little chance of getting caught. Farms no longer employ large numbers of workers who used to be around keeping out a watchful eye on their own or a neighbour’s property and equipment. Contractors are now common place on farms carrying out ploughing, planting seeding and harvesting at the material times of the year with the farmer overseeing operations. Employed specifically to carry out a task on the land moving on quickly to the next job is where contractors make their money. Couple this with the fact that police work specifically in rural locations is a luxury now in rapid decline, and a picture starts to emerge why rural crime becomes attractive to those seeking a bumper harvest. Whilst the future for the farming community does not paint a pretty picture, the private security industry does need to sit up and take note of these facts because out of one community’s adversity comes another’s opportunity.


police in Rutland have teamed up with local farmers to tackle crime against farms in the local area.

The ‘Farm Watch’ initiative has been set up to provide a line of communication between local farmers, contractors, landowners and the police, in order to gather information that may be useful in catching criminals. Two-way communication is essential and members are asked to report all crimes, incidents and anything suspicious, so that intelligence can be gathered and information can be acted upon quickly.

The scheme uses a Fast Text system where the police are able to share information with registered users with a single text message. For example, if a suspicious vehicle is reported to the police the details can be sent out by text to members, and if the vehicle is then seen its location can be reported by ringing 101 and reporting it to the police.

Inspector Lou Cordiner, Commander of Rutland local police unit said: “I am delighted we have been able to launch ‘Farm Watch’ as I know that rural and agricultural crime is a concern for many local people. It also builds on our strong relationships with farmers as it will enable us to distribute information very quickly which in turn will help us combat rural crime.”

PCSO 6127 Steve Houghton from Rutland LPU who is the lead for Farm Watch in Rutland said: “Before I became a PCSO I worked in farming and I know that most farmers are not sat in an office waiting for an email, getting information out very quickly is important as they will be out and about working in the fields and farms.

“So far we have had 80 people sign up to Farm Watch in Rutland and I would like to expand the scheme to as many farms as possible. It is free, and all you need is a mobile phone capable of receiving text messages. If you are interested in becoming part of the scheme please get in touch with me.”

And Derbyshire Police officers from the Bakewell Safer Neighbourhood Team are asking residents to be alert after heating oil was stolen from a home in the area. Sometime between Sunday, June 1 and Sunday, August 17, offenders stole around 700 litres of fuel from tanks at a property in Over Haddon, Bakewell.

Safer Neighbourhood officers are urging residents to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to police to prevent a crime from happening.
The policing team are encouraging home owners to take extra steps to protect themselves from oil theft. This includes ensuring that tank lids are locked with a suitable secure padlock and that any empty containers or drums are removed from the immediate area to prevent drawing attention to an oil tank.

PCSO Hayley Grundy from the Bakewell Safer Neighbourhood Team said: “Heating oil and fuel in an expensive commodity and I would advise residents to help protect themselves and their neighbours against this type of crime.

“Thankfully, there are simple steps that can be taken to further protect your property from becoming targeted by opportunists, such as installing security sensor lights to brighten up dark areas around your home and oil tank. I would advise people to remember to check their tank’s oil levels on a regular basis and to try to limit access to the property by keeping gates closed and locked.”

Other tips to help protect heating oil tanks include:

If your tank is openly accessible to all, consider moving it to somewhere that is better protected or hidden from view, especially if you live close to a road;
If your tank is located in an outbuilding, ensure it is kept locked and secured at all times;
Disguise your oil tank if you can or create obstacles to make it more difficult to access.

Police comment

National Policing Lead on Wildlife and Rural Crime, Chief Constable Simon Prince said of the NFU Mutual survey: “Crime is at historically low levels across England and Wales. People living and working in rural areas are statistically even less likely to become victims of crime. However, in rural areas isolated farms and properties can be seen as lucrative targets by the criminal gangs because of the high value of modern farm machinery and livestock.

“Many police forces have developed rural crime strategies and are working closely with businesses and communities to prevent crime. Schemes such as Farmwatch and Horsewatch are successful in preventing this type of crime and police forces are also building strong links with organisations like the National Farmers Union and partnerships like the Rural Crime Network.”


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