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Rural Crime Surge Prompts Calls for Vigilance

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Rural crime in the U.K. is reported to have increased enormously in 2023. In this post we look at these troubling reports, why rural crime is increasing and consider rural security advice from various sources.

According to rural insurance providers, NFU Mutual, April 2023 was the second worst month on record for GPS thefts from rural properties. Compared with 2022 their costs doubled to more than £500,000 prompting the insurer to issue a security alert ahead of the imminent harvest season when expensive farming machinery and valuable equipment, including GPS systems, can often be left in vulnerable locations.

Police superintendent Andrew Huddleston, who leads the U.K.’s National Rural Crime Unit, has highlighted how machinery theft in England and Wales has increased at an astronomical rate over the first quarter of 2023, rising by more than 300%. He points out that particular targets include construction and agricultural machinery, such as excavators, along with GPS systems, used to map fields and support agricultural operations.

Crime Flourishes During Periods of Conflict

Crippling western sanctions imposed on Russia, due to the conflict in Ukraine, are blamed for soaring demand for valuable machinery, equipment and GPS systems. Shortly after Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine many agricultural equipment manufacturers, including John Deere and Lely, suspended their shipments to both Russia and Belarus. This immediately resulted in Russian farmers being unable to get the spare parts they needed, prompting Putin’s forces to raid a John Deere factory in Ukraine, stealing nearly $5 million worth of equipment within the first few weeks of the armed conflict. John Deere reportedly disabled all of the stolen GPS systems.

Conflicts create unique opportunities for organised crime to flourish and this appears to be driving the rural crime wave sweeping across the UK. Police forces have reported that stolen machinery and equipment they have both recovered and tracked was definitely headed for Eastern Europe.

A number of experts in international organised crime have acknowledged how illicit economic activities and black markets flourish in conflict situations. Nicole Jackson, an expert in international organised crime and associate professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada has said:

“We would expect black markets to arise globally for a whole range of products — agricultural goods, arms, electronic equipment, etcetera — due to the [Russian] sanctions and the war more generally,” Jackson said. “A correlation with some increased crime to fulfil new demands in Russia (and elsewhere) makes sense.”

And Vesna Markovic, a professor at Lewis University in Illinois with expertize in transnational organised crime, has pointed out how organised crime groups are very quick to innovate and are able to rapidly adapt to new opportunities.

It has been reported that larger pieces of farming equipment are leaving the UK stowed in containers and in the back of lorries. In May 2023 UK police officers alerted Dutch authorities to a lorry on a cross channel ferry that was found to be carrying four stolen excavators along with a horse box.

Smaller stolen items, including GPS systems, are apparently being sent by courier or parcel services to Eastern European destinations.

Rural Crime in the UK

In Norfolk its reported that criminals have stolen around £150,000 worth of tractor GPS systems. In April 2023 twenty GPS systems were stolen, worth around £100,000. Two men, convicted for stealing equipment valued at £380,000 from agricultural vehicles and raiding a total of thirteen farms and estates across Essex, were recently sentenced to almost seven years in prison.

Organised criminal gangs are reported to be travelling around the UK using drones to scope out farms for viable targets and equipment. In one recent theft seven John Deere Greenstar tractor GPS domes along with seven StarFire GPS screens, worth around £70,000, were stolen from an arable farm in Thame, Oxfordshire. These unscrupulous thieves caused massive damage as they smashed the windscreen of a Fendt Rogator sprayer to get to the valuable GPS system inside.

In the first week of July the theft of two StarFire 600 GPS units has been reported in Cumbria. Police officers are appealing for witnesses and any reports of suspicious behaviour in the area.

In Dorset thieves stole a cattle handling system from an isolated location near Powerstock and criminals broke into business premises along with nearby guest properties in the Burton Bradstock area in June 2023. They stole a quad bike and fuel along with fishing equipment and power tools. A local farmer warned others to be vigilant.

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Rural crime reports don’t clearly reflect the impact suffered by victims. The loss of valuable GPS equipment, for example, can be enormously detrimental to ongoing farming operations and the emotional blow suffered by those targeted by crime gangs can’t be quantified. To cover the extremely high costs of replacing systems and repairing damage caused by unscrupulous thieves its vital that agricultural businesses are adequately insured.

Rural Security Advice from NFU Mutual

Rural insurance provider, NFU Mutual, has acknowledged how the scale of GPS theft offences makes it vital that farmers take all possible precautions to protect their valuable assets. They prompt farms to be aware of the need for vigilance and security during the busy harvest season and how organised criminal gangs are on the lookout for valuable equipment and GPS systems they can steal.

As noted, these organised criminal gangs are making efforts to identify vehicles and farm equipment with installed GPS systems and they will break through locked gates and overcome security systems to get to valuable equipment which they know they can sell-on.

The insurer also points out how most of the stolen GPS equipment is being shipped abroad for sale on the black market but some stolen systems can be sold in the UK. They tell people to be vigilant and not be tempted to buy low cost, dodgy equipment that can sometimes be advertised online. Used agricultural GPS systems sell for many thousands of pounds on well known auction websites. 

Their recommendations to secure GPS systems includes the following precautions: 

  • Activate PIN security on GPS kit with your own unique number if available
  • If your system is not pin enabled, mark with your postcode to deter thieves and trace your property back to you.
  • Keep tractors and combines with GPS fitted stored out of sight when possible
  • Remove GPS kit when possible from tractors and other machinery and store it securely when not in use.
  • Record serial numbers and photograph your kit.
  • Check serial numbers of second-hand kit offered for sale (John Deere provide a service enabling farmers to call their local dealership to check the serial number of its popular StarFire GPS system.)
  • Report sightings of suspicious activity in fields and farmyards to police. 

Additional, sensible security precautions include installing CCTV security cameras, bolstering perimeter security and always locking valuable pieces of equipment, such as ATVs and horseboxes, to immovable anchor points.

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Rural Security Recommendations from Police Forces

Police forces throughout the UK provide their own security recommendations. Importantly, they want to hear from anyone who spots suspicious behaviour in the countryside. Their Farm Watch Service aims to identify and prevent rural crime. Members are provided with crime prevention advice along with access to a property marking scheme that makes it harder for criminals to dispose of marked items. They also get warning signs to display around farms so that criminals know the property is protected. If alerted to criminal activity in an area all members in that region are sent messages prompting them to be vigilant and ensure their assets are protected.

Police advise for heavy machinery security includes:

  • Installing trackers
  • Installing immobilisers
  • Using alarm systems
  • Installing CCTV cameras
  • Shackling equipment together
  • Securely attaching equipment to immovable anchor points or buildings.

They recommend that all equipment is marked to make it unique and identifiable using relevant postcodes. They also recommend that all valuable assets are accurately logged and recorded. Details should include the make, model, serial number, value and description of the items. Taking photographs of valuables is another important recommendation along with ensuring these images are kept in a secure location.

What to Do if Machinery or Equipment is Stolen

If property is stolen its essential for the police to be told as soon as possible. When reporting rural theft the following details will need to be provided:

  • The make, model and serial number of the stolen item.
  • The chassis number for any stolen vehicle.
  • Engine details.
  • Vehicle registration details.
  • Colour
  • Any distinguishing marks.

Its also important to provide police with details of:

  • The location from which the item was taken.
  • When it was last seen or used.
  • When the theft became apparent.
  • Details of any security systems in place (CCTV, alarms etc.)
  • Whether there is a tracker fitted (and details of the tracking system).
  • Details of any security marking on the stolen items.
  • If a vehicle has an immobiliser.
  • Whether a GPS system was protected with a PIN.
  • Damage caused by thieves.

Previous Posts

Our previous posts on rural crime provide some useful security recommendations.

 

If you have any questions about practical precautions you can take to protect against rural crime remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 13th July 2023

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