The cost of rural crime increases by almost 20% in 2019

According to the NFU Mutual insurance company, the cost of rural theft in Northern Ireland rose 18% to £3.3m in 2019.

The main culprits were organised criminal gangs, who targeted farmers’ high-value tractors, quad bikes and livestock.

The latest figures are contained in the Mutual’s 2020 Rural Crime Report, published this week. The publication confirms rural crime cost the UK £54m in 2019, an increase of almost 9% on the previous year.

While there have been some reductions in crime under lockdown, there are concerns that rural theft is set to escalate as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic bites.

In 2019 the cost of rural crime rose in every region and nation within the UK. The biggest percentage increase was seen in Scotland (44.1%), followed by 18% in Northern Ireland and the East of England (16.9%). The lowest regional increase was in North East England, up 0.4%.

For the second year running, the sharp rises in the cost of theft on Northern Ireland’s farms and fields was driven by thefts of high-value tractors, quad bikes and livestock.

Martin Malone, NFU Mutual Manager for Northern Ireland, said: “Rural crime is like a wave as organised criminality spreads through our villages, farms and rural towns, affecting everyone in the countryside. We continue to work hard to stem the tide and are warning rural communities and helping with prevention advice, as there are concerns for the months ahead as the economic impact of Coronavirus bites.

“As well as the financial cost, there’s a serious effect on the mental well-being of people living in rural and often isolated areas. There are fears that the impact will be felt harder this year as farmers have been working flat-out to feed the nation and many rural communities have been put under additional pressure by the challenges brought by COVID-19.”

Commenting on the Mutual’s latest rural crime survey Supt. Brian Kee, PSNI Service Lead for Rural and Wildlife Crime said: “We recognise that agriculture plays an important part in the Northern Ireland economy, and crime can have a significant impact on a farm business.

“However, it is worth pointing out that the NFU figures represent the cost of crime as opposed to the number of reported incidents of rural crime as categorised in the PSNI statistics.

“For example one large piece of machinery may cost thousands of pounds but equates to one report of crime. That said, crime of any sort can have a significant impact on the victim, whether that be a farm business, a community or an individual, and we recognise that.

“The latest PSNI agricultural and rural crime statistics show a fall in the number of crimes recorded in rural communities in the last 12 months, there were 357 agricultural crimes recorded in Northern Ireland from 1st July 2019 to 30th June 2020, a fall of 30 on the previous 12 months, continuing the downward trend since 2010/11, marking a 62% reduction in rural crime over the last 10 years. Lockdown measures in relation to Covid-19 were introduced on 23rd March 2020 and have had an impact on the number of burglary, robbery and theft offences recorded in Northern Ireland.  The number of agricultural crimes from March to June 2020 has been the lowest figure recorded for each of these months since the data series began in 2010/11.

“In 12 months from 1st January 2019 to 31st December 2019, there were 374 agricultural crimes recorded in Northern Ireland, a fall of 29 on the previous 12 months.

“Rural crime can have a detrimental impact on a family, a community and a farming business. And that impact can be more than just financial, that’s why we remain committed to reducing incidents of crime in rural areas. We continue to work closely with NFU Mutual and partners in the Rural Crime Partnership, including the Department of Justice (DoJ), Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFC), Police and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSP) and the Federation of Small Businesses as part of the Rural Crime Partnership to take forward recommendations and initiatives around preventing and combatting rural criminality. This has included a subsidised support scheme to help tackle quad and trailer theft by encouraging owners to fit an electronic tracking device to proactively deter theft and assist police with recovery should an item be stolen.

“Officers in local districts work with the community and partner agencies at a local level to address rural crime. The work of local officers is often supplemented by officers from specialist departments, including Roads Policing and Organised Crime Branch, who work with counterparts in other agencies and cross border with An Gardaí Siochanna to combat organised criminality. Analysts provide data which is used to inform policing activity and to help ensure that our limited resources are properly directed to where and when they are needed most. Crime Prevention Officers also work locally alongside officers, stakeholders and the community in a bid to address crime in rural communities.

“The PSNI have worked with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to upskill officers. Many have completed a training course on rural and livestock affairs and put this knowledge to good use in a bid to combat rural crime on a daily basis. Officers in border areas such as Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry work alongside their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, An Garda Síochána, to address the serious issue of cross border crime. We are committed to working with partner agencies and voluntary groups to ensure a high standard of prevention and detection of criminal activity in rural areas.”

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