A UK rural crime task force must be established to prevent and tackle the theft of high-value farm machinery by organised criminal gangs, according to the national association that represents farmers.
The National Farmers Union is also calling for more funding for rural policing, as a new report reveals the cost of rural crime has hit £44.5m per year.
The NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2018 has been compiled using data from its 300 agent offices across the UK.
The costs associated with agricultural vehicle, quad and all-terrain vehicle, and livestock theft all increased year on year from 2016 to 2017 with almost every region of the UK seeing a rise in rural crime, says the report.
NFU deputy president Guy Smith said: "Without doubt, rural crime is one of the most pressing, impactful and devastating issues farmers are dealing with at the moment.
“These figures emphasise the seriousness of this issue and the NFU continues to work with MPs, government and police to help them deliver solutions that allow farmers to do what they do best –producing food for the nation.
“The impacts are far-reaching. Farms are not only places of business, but they are also homes. With many farmers experiencing intimidation, violence, threats and criminal acts right on their doorstep, the need for measures to curb this activity has never been greater.
“As NFU Mutual figures show, the cost of rural crime is at its highest for years. That is why it is a top priority for the NFU, and why we are pushing this issue up the government agenda."
The NFU is calling for both government and police to:
- Form a cross-departmental rural crime task force. This must ensure the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and all relevant departments, including the Welsh Government, and the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Housing, Communities and Local Government work together with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and police to address the failures in dealing with rural crime.
- Consult with all stakeholders to agree a definition of rural crime that can be used to inform consistent policy decisions and to enable accurate recording and target setting.
- Secure more funding for research to understand rural crime and its links to organised criminal networks. And for the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research to prioritise research on how organised crime groups are operating in rural areas in the UK.
It also asked for:
- The Home Office to ensure fair funding for rural policing.
- The Sentencing Council to review the range of rural crimes experienced by farming communities, and to ensure sentencing guidelines reflect the true cost and impact of these crimes, and contain up-to-date information about the penalties that act as a disincentive for these crimes.
The NFU recently partnered with the charity Crimestoppers to launch the Rural Crime Reporting Line, a service through which the public can anonymously give information about four rural crimes, including machinery theft, livestock theft, hare coursing, and large-scale industrial fly tipping.