FARMERS are ‘living under siege from criminals’ according to a leading insurer with some unwilling to leave their farms to attend events for fear of attack.
The 2019 Rural Crime Report by NFU Mutual shows that rural crime cost Lancashire more than £1.63m last year, a rise of 5.9% from 2017, making it the seventh worst affected county in the UK by cost.
Figures for the UK as a whole reveal that rural crime cost the country £50m in 2018 - an increase of 12% on the previous year and the highest overall cost in seven years.
The report says that these sharp rises are being driven mainly by high-value thefts of tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles.
Jo Oliver, NFU Mutual’s senior agent based in Preston, says crime is having a dramatic effect on the lives of the rural community. She said: “One of the most alarming findings from this year’s report is that fear of crime is changing life in the countryside. From constant reports of thefts and suspicious vehicles touring the countryside and rural criminals regularly staking out farms, country people feel they are under siege.
“The report further reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.
“Repeat attacks are causing widespread anxiety and exacerbating the problems of rural isolation amongst farmers who often work alone all day. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of criminal attack they can no longer leave the farm with their family to attend local agricultural shows.”
The insurer said that farmers are employing new technologies and building physical barriers to deter thieves - increasingly important because today’s determined thieves come armed with battery-powered angle grinders which can cut through chains and padlocks in seconds to access farm buildings and tool sheds.
Among the trends noted by NFU Mutual, All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are said to be disappearing from farms in large numbers as a result of being easy to transport and their lack of registration plates. Thieves are also increasingly ‘cloning’ the identity of tractors to make detection more difficult.
Tractors costing more than £50,000 are exported to developed counties while small, older tractors are exported to Third World countries.
Superintendent Julian Platt, rural operational lead for Lancashire Constabulary, added: “We recognise the challenges in rural communities that these statistics highlight. We are committed to protecting our rural communities and will continue to work to reduce this trend. The constabulary sees strong partnerships, together with focused police activity, as the key to impacting on rural crime. We would ask the public to support this approach and keep talking to us.”
(Picture – An angle-grinder being used to cut through a padlock and chain.)