Rural crime has hit a seven year high, costing a massive £50m last year, new figures show.
A report by insurer NFU Mutual found that rural crime increased by 12 per cent from 2017 to 2018 – with Unite pointing to Tory cuts to police officers across the country as one of the reasons for the rise.
NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Tim Price said, “Farmers and country people are suffering from high levels of anxiety due to repeated thefts by gangs who take advantage of farms’ isolated locations to steal machinery, raid tool stores and even butcher sheep in the fields.
“In a single generation, country people have seen rural crime change from the opportunist theft of a single lamb to brazen heists of tractors worth over £100,000 and rustlers stealing hundreds of sheep.
“We are even seeing agricultural vehicles being stolen to smash into village shops to rob cash machines. As well as causing huge structural damage to buildings, these raids can lead to shop owners not replacing ATMs for fear of further attacks.”
Scotland saw the biggest increase in rural crime, up 62 per cent. The north east had the second highest rate of increase, at 25 per cent, while East Anglia had the third, up 22 per cent. Wales saw a decrease of 7 per cent in rural crime, while the south west saw a fall of 1 per cent.
Stolen tractors, quad bikes and other farms vehicles were the main driver of the increase – rising by 26 per cent in 2018 to £7.4m.
In July, it was revealed that more than a third of rural police forces do not have a strategy to tackle rural crime.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which conducted the research, highlighted budget constraints as one of the reasons police are failing to tackle the problem.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said, “Clearly, budgetary constraints are an issue, and we’d like to see more forces being given the tools to combat rural crime seriously.”
Between 2010 and 2018, the number of police officers in England and Wales fell by more than 20,000 – with Boris Johnson promising to increase the number of officers by the same amount when he became prime minister in July.
Tory neglect of rural communities
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson said the rise in rural crime is part of a wider trend of Tory neglect of rural communities.
She said, “When more than a third of rural police forces, labouring under successive budget cuts, do not have a strategy to tackle rural crime, is there any wonder crime has gone up?
“For years rural communities have seen their public services run down or moved away. Fire stations, bus routes, health services, schools and police have all come in for the chop under the Conservatives.
“While Boris Johnson must ensure that rural areas benefit from the extra 20,000 police officers he has promised, only a Labour government has the vision to end the steady decline of rural communities through strong public services and helping to create and support a thriving rural economy that works for everyone.”