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Rural crime rockets as crooks prey on farmers

Quad bikes are the most popular item on the farm for thieves across Northern Ireland

By Linda Stewart

Rural crime is on the rise with farms across Northern Ireland being targeted by thieves living nearby, says research.

Insurance firm NFU Mutual also found a UK-wide increase has been led by a sharp spike in the theft of expensive tractors.

Six of the seven NFU offices in Northern Ireland reported that rural crime has been higher in 2009/10 than in the previous 12 months.

Five offices said they believe most rural crime is planned, rather than opportunist.

Claims to the insurer show that tractor thefts across the UK rose by 4.8% in 2009.

Thefts cost the UK’s farming industry £42.2m in 2009, over a third higher than the estimated cost of £30.28m in 2008.

The last two years have seen a sharp hike in the number of tractors being stolen to order, often for immediate export to destinations like Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The insurer also carried out a survey based on 300 offices across the UK.

Three Northern Ireland branches said rural crime is being carried out by people local to the area, while two blamed outsiders with local knowledge.

Better security measures were recommended by 64% of branches, while 18% called for a greater police presence. Only 9% thought membership of a ‘Farmwatch’ type scheme would help cut rural crime.

NFU Mutual chief claims manager John Kenny said: “It’s disappointing to see that rural crime is on the increase and that rural homes and businesses have become a source of rich pickings for thieves.”

Emerging trends included ‘strip and ship’, where vehicles are stolen and moved to warehouses, stripped down to their parts and shipped aboard; and lunchtime looting, with thieves targeting unlocked workshops for power tools when farmers return to the house for lunch.

If thieves suspect tractors or quad bikes may have been fitted with tracker devices, they often hide them in a remote area to see if police find them. If not, the thieves can be reasonably confident the vehicle does not have a tracker device fitted.

NFU Mutual has advised farmers to check livestock at least daily and make sure they are clearly marked, grazing them in fields away from easy road access if possible.

Ask neighbours to report suspicious sightings or sounds of distressed livestock and don't buy stock if you are suspicious of their origins.

Detailed advice on rural security is available at the website www.nfumutual.co.uk.

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