RURAL crime gangs are likely to take advantage of isolated communities and stretched police resources during the Coronavirus outbreak, police have warned.
The warning came after stolen farm machinery worth hundreds of thousands of pounds was recovered by police in Warwickshire.
Warwickshire Police Rural Crime Team and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) carried out two raids in the county earlier this month, leading to the recovery of a treasure trove of machinery which had been stolen from farms across the UK.
The first took place at a Warwickshire farm after police carried out routine enquiries on the premises and found machinery with identifying marks which raised suspicions.
Further investigation revealed other reported stolen and suspicious machinery and as a result equipment was seized including a John Deere 6940 tractor, a JCB telehandler, Takeuchi mini excavator, a Kobelco large excavator, an Ifor Williams livestock trailer, and a hedge cutter. Arrests were made.
The second operation involved a raid on a site elsewhere in Warwickshire. Among the machinery and vehicles recovered were six caravans, two livestock trailers, one small trailer, a mobile shower block, numerous power tools, a Ford Transit van and a Ford Focus. Police enquiries are ongoing.
Detective Constable Chris Piggott from NAVCIS urged farmers and rural residents to secure equipment as thieves were likely to target farms amid the Coronavirus outbreak.
He said: “Many farm vehicles now have so-called smart keys containing electronic information needed to start the machine, so it’s vital that keys are removed from machines and stored securely in a remote location.
“Other measures including CESAR marking, immobilizers and tracking devices are effective in deterring thieves and aiding police recoveries.”
He added information from farmers had made the raids possible.
He said: “Police forces do record these reports and use them to piece together trails which can lead to arrests being made – so it’s well worth taking the trouble to report suspicious activity, even when there doesn’t appear to be an immediate police response.
“There is no doubt that these were highly organised criminals.”
PC Andy Timmins from the Rural Crime Team said: “We are extremely pleased to have made these recoveries, because we’ve been able to return stolen machinery to its owners and also send a clear and powerful message to criminals that Warwickshire Police does have the resources and determination to tackle organised rural crime.
“Thanks to the fact that we now have a Rural Crime Team with expertise in this area who have the time, resources and contacts to work on these issues, significantly more property was identified as stolen and suspects identified.”
Visit www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralcrime for more information about rural crime and security.