Rural crime soars as thieves target farms and country businesses

Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. The cost of rural crime has soared to more than £44 million with organised gangs stealing farm vehicles and equipment and even targeting country businesses during busy shift changes to cover their tracks.A new study will tomorrow reveal that the cost of crime in agricultural areas is now at its highest since 2013, with the Midlands one of the worst hit regions..Estimates from NFU Mutual, which insures more than 75 percent of farms in the UK, will show the cost of thefts from rural homes, businesses and farms currently stands at £44.5m, an increase of 13.4 percent and the highest year-on-year rise since 2010.With police forces overstretched rural residents and businesses are increasingly having to turn to social media in an attempt to combat crime and help each other monitor the activities of thieves in their area.Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said:  “With police facing huge challenges – including budget cuts and extra workload – forces are finding it hard to resource rural policing and this may be one of the reasons for the rise in thefts we are seeing.“However social media is fast becoming the new eyes and ears of the countryside, strengthening the community ties that help in the reporting and recording of crime and bringing thieves to justice.”In one particularly brazen case thieves tried to hotwire a farmer’s pickup vehicle while he was working in fields and he had to chase them off.But within days, his 750-acre Staffordshire farm was targeted again, when thieves sawed the locks in half on an outbuilding in broad daylight to steal tools.Matthew, a third generation farmer who preferred not to give his full name, said: “There are half a dozen farms in the area that are being targeted. We are near the Shropshire border and between police forces, so they know it takes them a while to respond.“They even target farms to coincide with shift changes to make it even less likely that they will be caught. Over the years we must have reported more than 50 registration numbers and we all have CCTV that records vehicles and people, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.”Matthew added that he has been forced to take desperate measures in an attempt to keep out the thieves.“There is nothing you can buy that is strong enough to keep them out, so we are starting to make things ourselves. We have surrounded the workshop with concrete walls and built earthworks,” he said.Matthew said his family has had more than £50,000 of vehicles, fuel, tools and even lambing pens stolen as well as having machinery tampered with and his young daughter has been left becoming increasingly frightened by disturbances on the farm.His wife Jacqui said: “We had one week where we were up three or four times because we heard noises and it has got to the point where it was really upsetting her. We managed to get her through it but is horrible not knowing when it is going to start again. It is relentless, it’s crazy the lengths you have to go to try to keep the farm and everyone safe.”.Matthew added: “I’ve lived here all my life and to be honest it’s quite scary knowing that you can be targeted day or night and it looks like it’s only going to get worse.”

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