Northern Ireland’s farmers are being targeted by “a new breed of brazen criminals” who are overcoming high-tech security measures to steal valuable equipment and vehicles.
That was the warning from leading rural insurer NFU Mutual as it launched its annual Rural Crime Report, which reveals a shocking rise in rural crime across the Province.
According to the document, published today, rural crime cost Northern Ireland a whopping £2.6m in 2017 – a rise of 5.3% from the previous year.
Despite many farmers having installed expensive security measures, criminals have found ways to overcome them and steal valuable equipment, with quad bikes and ATVs (all terrain vehicles), livestock and tractors top of the thieves’ wishlist.
The report reveals that in some areas farmers are now being forced to combine “medieval fortifications” with high-tech security to combat modern-day crime.
Earth banks, stockade fences and high-security single access points are helping fortify their farms against criminals who use 4x4 vehicles to get onto farm land to commit crimes and evade police.
Lisburn farmer Gary Kerr had two trailers stolen – a box trailer and a flatbed – using his own 4x4 pickup truck.
The brazen thieves also attempted to load his tractor onto the flatbed and take it away.
“The trailers weren’t in their usual place as they had been moved away from the building to stop them being damaged during high winds, so it would be hard to say whether it was an opportunistic theft. There did seem to be a degree of planning.
“A neighbour had his car stolen around the same time and that was recovered 40 miles away a few months later, but there was never any sign of the trailers,” he explained.
“There isn’t a Farm Watch scheme in place, but we do hear about suspicious activity going on from time to time. The response from the police and NFU Mutual was good, but we decided to only replace one of the trailers in the end,” Gary added.
With the cost of rural crime in Northern Ireland continuing to climb, many farmers are now combining age-old security methods with high-tech systems such as CCTV cameras, motion sensors, immobilisers on vehicles, tracking devices and even DNA markers for livestock.
Protective animals such as geese, llamas and dogs are being used to provide a useful low-tech alarm system, much as they did hundreds of years ago.
“There is widespread concern in Northern Ireland that a new breed of brazen criminals are targeting the countryside and they are overcoming electronic security measures to steal expensive equipment and vehicles,” said Martin Malone, NFU Mutual sales manager in Northern Ireland.
“Adapting centuries-old security with high-tech solutions is already proving successful in keeping at bay thieves who don’t fear being caught on camera and have the skills to overcome electronic security systems.”
The report also reveals that limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears for people in rural communities, with many forced to change the way they live and work as a result of rural crime.
“We are working closely with police to identify preventative measures and to educate the rural community on how best to protect their property and possessions,” Mr Malone continued.
“Social media, for example, is fast becoming the new eyes and ears of the countryside, strengthening the community ties that help in the reporting and recording of crime and bringing thieves to justice.”
Stressing that rural crime remains a big issue here and that many people now feel isolated and vulnerable in their own homes, Ulster Farmers’ Union legislation chairman, James O’Brien, said the courts must impose tougher sentences on anyone found guilty of crimes that impact on farmers or their livelihoods.
According to NFU Mutual, the UK as a whole saw a 13.4% rise in the cost of rural crime last year – up to £44.5m in 2017 – the highest level in four years.
The cost of rural crime rose most sharply in Wales, up 41% on the previous year, followed by the Midlands which is up 32%, while the South East has seen a rise of 30%.
The cost of rural theft in Scotland has fallen 3.8%, while the North East is the only English region showing a fall, down 6.5%.
More information and advice on how to beat rural crime is available online at www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime