Countryside crime rise linked to cost-of-living crisis

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By Malcolm Prior

BBC News Rural Affairs Producer

Farm security sign

Image caption,

Farm thefts last year were valued at £40.5m

Theft of farmers’ livestock, vehicles and fuel is on the rise due to the UK’s cost-of-living crisis, according to a new countryside crime report.

Rural crime claims payouts between January and March were over 40% higher than in 2021, insurer NFU Mutual says.

It warned rising food prices could see livestock thefts increase further and contaminated meat enter the food chain.

The NFU wants the government to launch a national taskforce to deal with rural crime.

David Exwood, the NFU’s vice-president, said: “Taking a joined-up approach and establishing a cross-governmental task force – including Defra, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners – will be crucial if we are to prevent further impacts from crime on farm businesses, both financially and emotionally.”

The NFU Mutual report warns that an increase in rustling – which saw an estimated £2.4m worth of farm animals stolen in 2021 – could see animals slaughtered in unhygienic conditions and sold on, threatening food security, animal welfare and people’s health.

Meanwhile, it said its claims data from the first half of this year indicate that fuel theft has more than doubled compared to the same period in 2021. Its survey found 49% of respondents felt fuel theft was now their greatest crime concern.

‘Anxiety levels high’

The total cost of rural crime was estimated at £40.5m across the UK last year, an overall decrease on previous years and the second annual fall during the pandemic.

Security measures, rural crime initiatives, quieter roads and community vigilance all played their part in suppressing countryside crime, the report found.

But Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual’s rural affairs specialist, said that this year farm theft is “quickly gathering momentum as criminals make up for time lost over the past two pandemic years” and that was having an impact on farmers’ mental health.

“Crime in the countryside causes high levels of anxiety and disruption, with many farmers and rural home owners feeling vulnerable due to their isolated location,” she added.

“The knowledge that determined thieves are scouring the countryside looking for targets, and returning to carry out night-time raids can lead to sleepless nights for people in remote areas.”