Car thieves targeting British countryside icons as cost of Defender theft rockets

Farmers and other rural Land Rover Defender owners are being urged to take sensible security measures to protect their iconic vehicles.

Land Rover Defenders are being targeted by rural criminals and organised gangs who also dismantle them for parts.

The UK’s leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual, is calling for a mix of traditional and sophisticated electronic security measures as claims data shows that Defender theft from rural homes, farms and other businesses increased by 34 per cent in 2021, after a slight lull in 2020.

NFU Mutual data suggests that the number of Land Rover Defender thefts is on course to increase again in 2022.

Stephen Murgatroyd St Agnes, Cornwall, with his recovered Land Rover Defender

The cost of Defender theft reported to the insurer has also rocketed by 87 per cent, with £2.6m in cars and parts being stolen from countryside communities and businesses.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, commented: “We’ve been insuring Land Rovers since they first appeared on British farms, and their iconic status makes these vehicles a regular target for both opportunistic thieves and organised criminal gangs.

“From trusted farm vehicles to coveted collectors’ pieces, Defenders have universal appeal. With older models retaining their vintage value and newer used cars soaring in price, thieves are scouring the countryside for Land Rovers, as well as dismantling them for parts.

“We know that when prices go up, thieves are quick to cash in and the decrease in rural theft that we saw over lockdown is well and truly over.

“At NFU Mutual, we will continue to protect our customers and their communities by working closely with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), to help track down thieves and recover stolen vehicles. But prevention is best wherever possible, so we’re urging the rural community to take steps to protect their vehicles.”

NFU Mutual has partnered with Scorpion Track to offer customers discounts of over 50 per cent on sophisticated tracking and anti-theft devices for their vehicles.

DC Chris Piggott of NaVCIS said: “We are particularly concerned that the older Land Rover Defender models, the workhorses which are so important to farmers’ everyday activity, are at risk because of a lack of modern security systems.

“Owners should, therefore, fortify their vehicles as much as possible, using a combination of measures such as immobilisers, tracking devices and pedal and steering wheel locks.

“It’s also common to see vehicles stripped for parts in situ, but good site security and simple, cost effective measures can make life difficult enough for thieves for them to abandon their attempts.”

Thieves managed to bypass an alarm and steering lock to steal Stephen Murgatroyd’s Land Rover Defender from the driveway of his Cornish home, before using it in an attempted cashpoint raid.

They took it in the early hours without alerting the 65-year-old, or his neighbours, and he only found out the vehicle had gone when a policeman friend rang him to say it had been discovered elsewhere.

“When he phoned that morning, he asked me where my Defender was and I told him it was on the driveway. He said it can’t be, as I’m looking at it while I’m talking to you,” explained Stephen, who lives in the village of St Agnes.

“Where I usually park, it would have been hidden by trees, but I had left it further down the driveway as I had been painting the house that week, so the thieves would have seen it from the road.

“I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how they managed to do it without disturbing us or any of our neighbours.”

Stephen said his friend told him that it wasn’t the first to be taken and there had been other attempted thefts of Defenders on the same night.

After Stephen’s Defender was later captured on CCTV when it was used in the attempted cashpoint raid in a nearby seaside town, the thieves dumped it.

While he was pleased to have the vehicle back and get it repaired, the thieves had already dealt him a further blow.

During a walk with his wife and daughter just hours after the theft, Stephen found his tool box and other possessions from the Land Rover dumped in a hedge, just 400 yards from his house.

Stephen added: “That was what hurt me more than anything. We were burgled a number of years ago and that same emotion came back. It’s very unpleasant and can have such an impact on your life, but the thieves don’t think about that.”

NFU Mutual’s top tips for securing classic Rover Defenders:

* Keep the vehicle locked at all times when not in use

* Fit an accredited alarm for security and a tracking device to locate your vehicle if stolen – NFU Mutual customers can receive a discount on Scorpion Track devices

* Fit a mechanical immobiliser such as a steering wheel or pedal lock

* Thieves will often target component parts so consider marking them using a forensic marking solution or system

* Keep the vehicle in a lockable building if possible, or park in well-lit areas which are overlooked

* Have the vehicle identification number etched on windows

* Consider fitting a hidden battery isolation or a fuel cut-off switch

* Take photographs of unusual features, modifications, damage or repairs which could aid identification if stolen

* Ensure any valuables are removed from the vehicle

* Don’t share information on social media which could indicate where Land Rovers are kept

* For modern vehicles, keep electronic keys in a faraday pocket or box at night