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Norfolk sees fall in rural crime bill, says NFU Mutual

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In its annual report, which is published today, leading rural insurer NFU Mutual reveals that rural crime cost Norfolk almost £1.3 million last year.

But the county appears to have bucked the national trend as it saw a fall of 7.1 per cent from 2018, compared to a national increase of nearly 8.8 per cent.

Across the UK, rural crime cost £54 million in 2019 with the total being largely driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high value tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

The latest figures from Operation Galileo show a 41 per cent drop in reported incidents for the last four months of 2018. Photo supplied by Lincolnshire Police. (39792906)
The latest figures from Operation Galileo show a 41 per cent drop in reported incidents for the last four months of 2018. Photo supplied by Lincolnshire Police. (39792906)

While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic bites.

In 2019, rural crime rose in every part of the UK.

For the second year running, the sharp rises are being driven by organised criminal gangs targeting high-value tractors, quad bikes and other farm vehicles – accounting for an increase of nearly 25 per cent to £9.3 million on agricultural vehicles in the UK.

Within that total, quad bike and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) theft rose by 21 per cent to £3.1 million.

In addition, Land Rover Defender thefts reported to NFU Mutual rose by 34 per cent to £2.1 million.

Demand from overseas for expensive farm kit is fuelling the rise and in one joint operation between NFU Mutual and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 were recovered from Poland earlier this year.

Theft of tractor global positioning systems (GPS) is a major concern as farms move to using precision technology to run field operations.

Typically costing £8,000 to £10,000, GPS equipment has become a highly-prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown where smaller, high-value items appear to have been targeted to meet demand overseas.

Patrick Verrell, senior NFU Mutual agent in Norfolk, said: “While we welcome the news that Norfolk didn’t see the sharp increases of the rest of the UK, rural crime continues to have a devastating impact on our farmers and rural communities.

“There’s no doubt that organised criminal gangs are targeting our countryside and these figures would be much higher if it weren’t for the specialist rural crime team at Norfolk Police, and improved farm security measures such as trackers for tractors and quads.

“Theft of expensive Global Positioning Systems (GPS) which is used to automatically guide modern tractors and combines is currently a serious problem in the county.

“Very organised criminal gangs are touring Norfolk to identify where the equipment is kept on our farms and are returning at night to steal it.

“These GPS kits cost £8,000 and more – but the crime can impact farmers far more because of the delays and extra work these thefts cause.

“NFU Mutual is working closely with farm machinery manufacturers and Norfolk Police’s rural crime team to tackle this worrying rural crime trend.

“Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our farms and villages, affecting everyone in the countryside. We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of coronavirus bites.”

A survey of NFU Mutual Agents last year found that a quarter knew someone who had been forced to change the way they lived or farmed as a result of crime and the biggest fear in rural communities was repeat attacks.

Speaking about crime under coronavirus, Mr Verrell said: “Our provisional theft claims data for the first half of 2020 indicates that, while rural theft fell overall during the early part of pandemic lockdown, we’ve seen a number of national trends including a spike in livestock rustling in April and the targeting smaller equipment.”

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