Rising cost of rural crime

helping hand: Lancashire police has been recruiting mounted volunteers to help crack rural crime
helping hand: Lancashire police has been recruiting mounted volunteers to help crack rural crime

Countryside crime has cost Lancashire’s economy £2.1m in the past year.

Farm-related crimes spiralled by almost a fifth in 12 months, with quad bikes, commercial tools and 4x4s targeted by thieves.

The figures, which form part of insurer NFU Mutual’s annual Rural Crime Report, suggest Lancashire is the second-biggest UK hotspot for rural criminals.

And farmers are fighting against criminals who are using an increasingly hi-tech approach.

Police and communities face a continuing battle in the county, of which three-quarters is classed as rural, and crime has increased despite the introduction of schemes such as Farm Watch.

Anne Swale, whose farming family has been repeatedly targeted by petty thieves, said the report did not come as a surprise. She added: “It’s a sad time for the farming community. It makes us wonder if it’s worth carrying on.”

In the Ribble Valley, Lancashire Police has recruited mounted volunteers to help in the fight against criminals who are targeting farms and agricultural business in the area.

Insurers have warned that criminals targeting farms are getting increasingly sophisticated.

NFU Mutual has estimated rural crime is costing Lancashire £2.1m a year, with thieves now using technology to find potential victims.

Jo Oliver, NFU Mutual’s senior agent in Lancashire said: “It’s disappointing to see Lancashire is a hotspot for rural crime with the cost for the county the second highest in the UK.

“Rural thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated and using computers rather than bolt cutters to steal from farms and country properties.

“Farmers and police have been working hard to adopt high-tech security measures to tackle the problems which now include cloning tractor identities, advertising non-existent machinery in agricultural publications and stealing the GPS computer systems which are a key part of modern farming.”

Farmer Anne Swale said: “The farm crime report isn’t a surprise because so accessible to major motorways.

“People have spray-painted over our milk bar signs, and on quite a few days of week takings are down in the farm shop because things are stolen.

“We get up extra early to make it look nice and stay up late to serve the public. It makes us wonder if it’s worth carrying on. It’s a sad time for the farming community.

“I work in an agricultural shop in the day, and farmers are always coming in saying they’ve had trailers stolen, and buying padlocks to try and protect their property.

“I think the cuts to policing have had an impact but I only have positive things to say about the police here because they really try to help us with the reduced resources they have, and it takes extra time to respond to victims in a rural area.”

Lancashire police have held various operations to tackle rural criminals. In March, three people were arrested and 35 vehicles were stopped and checked as part of a rural crime crackdown in north Lancashire.

In Ribble Valley, mounted volunteers have been recruited to help crack crime in the area.

Chief Inspector Julian Platt, force operational lead for rural crime, said: “A significant proportion of Lancashire is rural and we are committed to making sure it is safe and communities in these areas feel safe.

“We are working hard to better understand the scale and impact of rural crime and we would encourage people living in rural areas to sign up to In The Know so that we can send you alerts about crime in your area and help you to keep yourselves and your property safe.

“Partnership working is key in detecting and preventing rural crimes and we will continue to work alongside our partners, including NFU Mutual, so we can better understand the challenge.”