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Insurer highlights the increased cost of rural crime as thieves target Scotland

By David Porter

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Following a drop in rural crime at the start of the pandemic, last year saw a steep rise in the cost of rural theft in Scotland, NFU Mutual’s Rural Crime Report reveals (published today August 2).

Based on claims reported to Scotland’s main insurer of the countryside, rural theft cost an estimated £2.6m in 2021, up 52 per cent from 2020.

While Scotland saw a high rise in cost, its baseline figure was lower than other parts of the UK.

Criminals who plagued Scotland’s farms stealing quad bikes and high value machinery contributed to the sharp rise.

As shipping delays and the effects of Covid and Brexit contributed to low supply and a rise in demand, thieves turned their sights to these easily portable, hot-ticket items to capitalise on growing waiting lists and soaring market values.

Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime is working to reduce thefts
Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime is working to reduce thefts

Fortunately efforts by Police Scotland and cross border police working, along with the expansion of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC), has helped curb the crimewave with criminals apprehended and stolen machinery recovered.

Over the past four years NFU Mutual has invested over £240,000 to support the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) and in 2021 provided a 4x4 vehicle to help rural crime officers in remote locations, along with hundreds of forensic property marking kits.

Initial claims indications for the first quarter of 2022 have shown encouraging signs that the value of rural theft in Scotland dropped again at the start of this year.

However, with the cost of living crisis and criminals becoming more active, NFU Mutual is urging rural communities not to be complacent.

Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual Scotland Manager, said: “With prices of essential farm equipment such as tractors and quads rising fast and the cost of diesel soaring over the past year, there’s little doubt that criminals will be trying to steal from farms.

"We also know that essentials of rural living like heating oil tanks will only become more attractive to thieves as costs rise.

"A recent poll by NFU Mutual reveals that 89 per cent of respondents believe inflation will lead to an increase in rural crime.

“We’re advising rural people to review their security, to help prevent crime and disruption.

"The good news is that the work of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime operates across the whole of Scotland and has a clear strategy to tackle rural crime through visible policing, sharing intelligence and advice, involving farmers and the wider community.”

Constable Lynn Black, of the Police Scotland National Rural and Acquisitive Crime Unit, said: “In the past year we have seen an increase in rural crimes in Scotland being committed by nominals from south of the Border linked to organised crime.

"Operation Hawkeye, a cross border rural crime initiative which sees Police Scotland, Northumbria, County Durham, Cumbria and now Cleveland forces share information and intelligence, has seen some excellent results in identifying and apprehending these individuals. Also, through our 15 local PARC’s (Partnerships Against Rural Crime) we have encouraged the public to report rural crime and suspicious incidents in our rural communities which helps build up a picture as to where the majority of rural crime is being committed, allowing focused and proactive policing in these areas.”

Alasdair Macnab, chair of NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical committee said: “Rural theft continues to impact on farmers and crofters across Scotland and these latest figures show the need for increased vigilance.

"It remains hugely important that our members continue to report all cases of rural crime, including theft, to the relevant authorities if we are halt the increase in incidents in its tracks.

"At a national level, we work closely with SPARC to ensure our members concerns are heard and the positive steps we are taking towards reducing rural crime in Scotland continue. At a regional level, we also encourage our members to be as involved as possible with the many regional PARCs now established in Scotland. These are the best platforms to give and receive up-to-date information on criminal activity at a local level.”

The UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m last year.

Land Rover Defender owners battled a barrage of crime as the rocketing value of second-hand cars and replacement parts saw thieves stealing the iconic British 4x4 vehicles and stripping them down, with the cost of claims shooting up by 87 per cent to £2.6m nationally.

The number of fuel theft claims received by NFU Mutual fell from 2020 to 2021, but with record high prices for diesel and heating oil, NFU Mutual claims data from the first half of this year indicates the frequency and cost of fuel theft claims have more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021.

In a new poll of the rural community by NFU Mutual, almost half of respondents (49 per cent) said that fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.*

Mark McBrearty added: “Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural homeowners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location.

“NFU Mutual is responding by helping those living and working in rural areas to put in place effective security measures and by continuing to provide major support to enable dedicated police resources to tackle crime.”

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