Spate of tractor thefts hits Midlands
9th September 2023
Farmers in the Midlands are being advised by the police to increase vehicle security following a spate of 20 high-value tractors and telehandler thefts in Staffordshire and Shropshire over the last month. Police suspect a highly-organised criminal gang is responsible for the thefts.
Who is responsible for these tractor thefts?
Police suspect the gang is identifying farms owning recently-bought expensive tractors and loaders and are using the motorway network to move them out of the country to sell in Eastern Europe and beyond.
Bob Henderson, head of engineering at NFU Mutual, said: “This is one of the worst spates of high-value agricultural vehicle theft we have dealt with in a specific area.
“We’re providing security advice to farmers in the two counties to help them secure their properties. We’re also working closely with the rural policing unit supported by NFU Mutual to help detect the gang responsible.
“These tractor thefts show we need to up our game to keep thieves at bay.”
Superintendent Andy Huddleston, who leads the newly-formed National Rural Crime Unit, said: “It’s clear that these thefts are the work of a highly-organised criminal group.
“Unusually the machinery being stolen are newer pieces of kit – some costing around £100,000 to replace. A number of stolen tractors and loaders have been recovered after being left in secluded areas. This indicates that the criminals are leaving stolen machinery for a few days to avoid the risk of detection if a tracking device is fitted to the machines.
“The thieves are very likely to be moving stolen vehicles out of the UK and selling them on in Eastern Europe. The thefts are being investigated by West Mercia Police, assisted by the National Construction and Agricultural Theft Team and OPAL, a national police intelligence unit which focuses on serious organised acquisitive crime.
“These specialist teams have been established to co-ordinate action across all UK police forces and pursue investigations abroad.
“With the exception of some brands many modern tractors and loaders are difficult to steal when keys are removed and locked away and the vehicles’ security devices are activated. Additional basic security measures such as locking yard gates, having security lights, using motion detector alarms and CCTV we know does deter thieves and is worth doing.”
What is being done to prevent future thefts?
Bob Henderson added: “As the main insurer of UK farmers, we know that theft of vital tractors and loaders is incredibly disruptive and causes worry and additional pressures for farmers and their families.
“We’re responding to the new threat by helping farmers put effective security measures in place and continuing to provide major support, to enable dedicated police resources tackle agricultural vehicle crime.”
Last year NFU Mutual invested over £400,000 in rural crime prevention initiatives. This includes support for a UK-wide agricultural vehicle theft unit and many regional and local schemes across the UK.
NFU Mutual’s latest statistics show that the cost of agricultural vehicle claims soared 29% to £11.7m in 2022 as organised criminal gangs cashed in on the rising cost and limited supply of vehicles and machinery.
Security checklist to protect your tractors and large agricultural vehicles:
- Close and lock yard gates at night to deter drive-through thieves
- Keep vehicle keys locked up securely at a separate location
- Check security lighting, alarms and cameras are working correctly and update if necessary
- Avoid leaving vehicles where they can be easily seen from near-by roads
- Consider infra-red beam alarms, CCTV and floodlighting to protect farm yards
- Join a local farm watch group or WhatsApp network to keep updated about local rural crime trends and suspicious sightings
- Fit trackers and immobilisers to deter thieves and aid recovery of stolen pick-ups
- Use the CESAR marking and registration system