Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: More action needed to tackle farm thefts

The latest report on farm security reveals that rural crime in Northern Ireland is costing £2.6 million a year. Some farms are being targeted twice in a matter of days by sophisticated gangs.

It is hard to credit that these people are so brazenly confident that they return to the scene of their law-breaking with the confidence that they can get away with their criminality a second time.

This is an appalling situation, and clearly something needs to be done to help farmers who find themselves in such a confidence-sapping situation despite attempts to help themselves.

An analysis by insurance company NFU Mutual Bond shows that the crime bill for 2017 was up 5.3% on the figures for the previous year.

The biggest targets were quad bikes, all-terrain vehicles, tractors and livestock.

The cost to the industry here in 2017 was much higher than the £1.9m in Wales and £1.5m in Scotland.

The Ulster Farmers' Union has warned that the crime spree is forcing its members to change their way of life, and some are using old-fashioned security measures including the construction of earth barriers and high fences.

The situation is so bad that many farmers and their families feel that they are living under siege, and that their livelihoods are being put at risk.

The PSNI is aware of the problem.

Although the number of incidents has fallen marginally, the police underline that they are taking the issue very seriously.

However, NFU reports that there is also deep concern that limited police resources, the loss of rural stations, and the shrinking number of officers are understandably leaving farmers feeling vulnerable and isolated.

They are already under great economic pressure, especially from the dramatic changes in the weather, from endless rain to prolonged drought, without having to worry about this added burden of organised crime.

The PSNI must continue to provide reassurance and practical support to the farming community, while also actively targeting the callous criminals who continue to prey on the rural community.

Even more intelligence is needed about those who are suspected of operating a black market in farm equipment.

The courts must also play their part in handing down sentences which underline that such lawlessness will not be tolerated.

Belfast Telegraph

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