Rural crime remains a serious issue, warns UFU

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has warned that people who live in rural areas feel increasingly at risk of being victims of crime.

UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson, says thieves operating in these areas are becoming increasingly sophisticated at targeting homes and businesses.

“Farming families often feel they represent rich pickings for criminals. Thieves are now very selective about the items they take and will not think twice about targeting the same farm again, sometimes within days,” said Mr Ferguson.

While the UFU accepts that farmers need to protect themselves and their property, the nature and layout of farms means there is only so much they can afford to do.

“Many feel they can only keep out the opportunist thief. But our members are reporting that thefts are often from locked buildings, with criminals using increasingly sophisticated methods to gain access,” said Mr Ferguson.

PSNI statistics show there is a decrease in the number of rural crime incidents reported. While UFU acknowledges this, Mr Ferguson said the statistics do not reflect the ‘true feeling’ on the ground.

“Figures from NFU Mutual Insurance show a 13 per cent increase in the cost of rural crime to Northern Ireland. This equates to £2.7 million in 2015 – a truly shocking figure. Rural crime has a lasting impact on farming families, who are often robbed of their livelihood overnight,” added Mr Ferguson.

The UFU says the PSNI cannot use a decrease in reported incidences to paint an over-optimistic picture, and that there can be no cause for complacency.

“Some under-reporting reflects a lack of farmer faith in the judicial system. We need a joined up approach - crime must be reported to the PSNI and it is vitally important these are coded appropriately. Farming families then need to see the justice system working to deliver prosecutions and proper penalties,” added Mr Ferguson.

The UFU says it is disappointed by reports that the PSNI Rural Crime Unit which was promised in 2013 has failed to get off the ground.

“We understand that pressures on public spending force tough decisions. But given the fear that exists about rural crime this is a strange way to decide budget priorities. Even worse a unit that was promised was abandoned without consultation and I would challenge the Chief Constable to explain what his alternative is now to give people in rural areas the reassurance they need that crime is being taken seriously,” said Mr Ferguson.

The UFU deputy president stressed that there are plenty of excellent police officers on the ground working hard to tackle this issue.

“We appreciate the dedicated efforts of these officers. However they can only be effective if they are fully supported by a clear strategy, good training and a judiciary that deters criminals from committing the crime,” concluded Mr Ferguson.

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