Fears over rural crime rise

Ben KendallFears were raised last night that rural crime - ranging from livestock rustling to farm machinery theft - is on the increase as criminals capitalise on rising prices.Ben Kendall

Fears were raised last night that rural crime - ranging from livestock rustling to farm machinery theft - is on the increase as criminals capitalise on rising prices.

A snapshot survey of NFU Mutual branches across East Anglia suggests that claims from those in farming communities has increased in recent months.

The insurer said today farm machinery thefts rose by 15pc last year as criminals target valuable tractors which are then exported to the continent.

Meanwhile, the co-ordinator of Norfolk-based Farmwatch, which liaises between farmers and the police, says the problem of livestock theft has begun to re-emerge, having previously disappeared off the radar as animal prices plummeted.

The survey, carried out for the EDP, also found a large number of claims for burglaries at rural properties and thefts of scrap metal.

Tim Price, spokesman for NFU Mutual, said: 'Last year it was heating oil, the year before it was scrap metal. This year rural thieves are turning their attention to livestock.

Most Read

'Over the last six months, we have been hearing a worrying number of reports of stolen sheep, cattle pigs - and even bees from across the country.'

The most high profile case in Norfolk came in June last year when rare breed cattle worth more than �15,000 were stolen from the Queen's Sandringham estate. In a night raid, 19 Red Poll cattle were stolen from Appleton Farm, at West Newton.

Since then there have been a number of smaller scale thefts. In March, 250 birds were stolen by poultry rustlers from a holding in New Drove, Wisbech. Almost 50 were found unfed on fields a few miles away but some 200 were never discovered.

Tony Bone, Farmwatch co-ordinator, said: 'Livestock theft hasn't been an issue for years, but we are aware it is becoming more of a problem. We haven't yet seen the levels that exist elsewhere in the country, but there have been a number of incidents.

'It seems to be driven very much by market forces. A few years ago you could buy a lamb for a few pence, but now you could pay �50 or �70. The thieves are aware of that and, because animals are often left exposed in isolated locations, it's relatively easy for them to cash in.'

Mr Bone said that farm machinery, particularly high-spec John Deere tractors, which can be worth more than �100,000 each, is increasingly being targeted. Often machines are broken down for parts or transported whole to Eastern Europe, making the stolen property difficult to track.

Last month, two men were arrested after police swooped on a lorry carrying stolen tractors. Detectives found farm machinery, which was believed to have been stolen from Norfolk and South Lincolnshire, at an Essex truck stop.

Norfolk police has set up a special squad to target gangs who have been breaking into farm buildings across the Fens to steal the tractors.

Recent months have also seen a pair of �150,000 tractors stolen from a shed at Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market, and a tractor and trailer driven off from an orchard at Marshland St James.

Mr Price said: 'Outside farming, we are also seeing worrying reports of tack thefts from stables and break-ins at homes where thieves are stealing gold jewellery - probably linked to gold reaching record high prices.

'We are very concerned with the survey's findings and are advising country people across the region to make sure they are taking all possible steps to keep their farms and homes safe.

'We are also working with police and farm and country watch schemes to help make people aware of what sort of crimes are taking place in their areas, and make sure that any suspicious sightings are passed on to police.

'We have also launched an initiative to help farmers protect their tractors - and for the first time we are offering discounts to farmers who make their tractors more secure.'

Norfolk police has launched a number of initiatives to clampdown on rural crime. As well as initiatives to target thieves stealing farm machinery, the force's Operation Radar focuses on rogue traders and scrap metal thieves.