THE COST of rural crime in the UK rose to £44.5m last year, with West Yorkshire the third worst affected county, new analysis shows.
The financial impact of rural crime on the country was 13 per cent higher than the year before, with analysts saying they are seeing “a new breed of determined and brazen thieves” with quad bikes, all-terrain vehicles and 4x4s their prime targets.
Rural insurer NFU Mutual’s annual Rural Crime Report, published today, reveals that the cost of rural crime in North Yorkshire fell by 17 per cent to £955,000 last year, following the creation of North Yorkshire Police’s specialist Rural Taskforce in April 2016.
However, rural crime in neighbouring West Yorkshire jumped by 14 per cent to £1.7m, making it the third worst affected county in the UK, and prompting fears that the crackdown in North Yorkshire is driving criminals into the neighbouring county instead.
Tim Price, a rural affairs specialist with NFU Mutual, said the cost of rural crime had been relatively stable since 2010.
He added: “However, in 2017 we’re alarmed to see it on the rise once again, this time fuelled by a new breed of determined and brazen thieves who are using a combination of brute force and technological know-how to steal from farms and country homes.”
Mr Price said some police forces around the country were proving to be “beacons of light” in the fight against the criminals.
He said: “However we would like to see more collaboration between forces.
“It’s not enough for one county’s rural crime initiative to simply displace crime to a neighbouring county. We’re fighting to see crime removed from the countryside.”
Yorkshire and the North East remained the third worst affected region of England, although there was good news in South Yorkshire, where the cost of rural crime fell by 18 per cent to £644,000.
North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, who chairs the National Rural Crime Network, said the report reinforced the findings of their own National Rural Crime Survey last month.
She said: “While this report has stark numbers on the cost of crime, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“We know many crimes in rural communities go unreported – especially by business owners, because they don’t feel the offence will be taken seriously or anything will be done, and our survey also found that, for the same reasons, only around a quarter of crimes are reported to insurers.
“However, it also reinforces that significant progress is being made to address these challenges in North Yorkshire. NFU Mutual finds the cost of crime here is down 16.7 per cent in the past year compared to a 13 per cent increase across the UK.
“This is on top of the Rural Crime Survey’s results which show our North Yorkshire Rural Taskforce is having an impact at improving the way police are perceived to be dealing with rural crime.
“The National Rural Crime Network believes we need to do more to understand rural crime and its impact, and put that understanding into practice.”
Assistant Chief Constable Amanda Oliver, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “It’s very good news that the annual cost of rural crime in North Yorkshire has fallen by more than 15 per cent.
“We take rural crime extremely seriously, and this reduction is testament to the hard work, professionalism and dedication of our Neighbourhood Policing Teams and Rural Taskforce, as well as the vital support we get from those who live and work in our rural communities.
“The figures show that we are making significant progress here in North Yorkshire, and leading the way nationally in the fight against rural crime.
“However, we are certainly not complacent, and we recognise that there is more to do.
“We are committed to continuing to improve the policing service we provide to our rural communities.”
West Yorkshire Police declined to comment.
A farmer in Craven is being targeted by criminals so often, it has now become part of his daily life.
David Airey, who farms 1,000 sheep on upland and heathlands in Sutton-in-Craven, close to the county borders of North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Lancashire, said: “It’s threatening our livelihoods. I am always on high alert, suspicious of every vehicle and person I see.
“Locking everything up and keeping things secure is taking several hours a week.
“It’s because we are so close to the border that the criminals know they can get away with it. There are about 15 different escape routes into different areas and once they get into Bradford it’s like a warren.”
Mr Airey said criminals were exploiting the weaknesses of areas around police force borders and called for better “cross-border co-operation” between forces. He praised North Yorkshire Police, but said in neighbouring West Yorkshire there were “not enough” officers covering its rural areas.
He said: “The thieves are professionals and criminality is their job, they work hard to stay one step ahead of the police and they are not scared of getting caught.
“They will steal in broad daylight and even try to sell the vehicles back to the farmers. It’s effectively like kidnapping the vehicle and then holding it to ransom. I had a rare blue quad bike stolen and so a friend put it on Facebook appealing for information and it came down the line that I could buy it back from the criminals for £1,500.”
Between £15,000 and £20,000 of equipment and livestock has been stolen from Mr Airey’s farm, including three quad bikes, trailers, metal, sugar beet, drills, chainsaws, milk kits and nearly 100 ewes. He says there is no point in buying new equipment any more, knowing that it is likely to be stolen.
He said: “We have farmed here for 42 years. We had a quad bike stolen in 1996 and then nothing until four years ago, but now we are targeted about once a fortnight. They will move onto other farms and then come back.
“We haven’t had anything stolen for a couple of weeks, so we are due another visit any day now.”
Mr Airey has invested more than £1,000 in additional security and technology to try to thwart the thieves.
He said: “We have seen a big difference since they put number plate recognition cameras on the main roads. Now, anyone dodgy comes our way instead to avoid detection.
“North Yorkshire Police have been very good but when crime is organised on this scale it needs cross-border co-operation between the forces to make any real difference, otherwise the criminals will continue to play on the fact that they can operate without consequence because they are so close to the border.”
Mr Airey said the farming community “can track vehicles across the roads and give the police information on where they are, but the border issue and lack of resources mean that by the time you have sat on the phone trying to contact one police force, they have already moved on to the next force area and it makes them very hard to catch”.