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Organised gangs behind huge rise in rural crime, says NFU Mutual report

By Alistair Whitfield

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Agricultural thefts in rural areas of Scotland soared by 44per cent last year, according to an NFU Mutual report published today.

Organised gangs targetting tractors, quads and livestock have seen the cost of rural thefts escalate to £2.3million.

Despite the high increase Scotland remains well below the UK average.

However the insurance organisation is concerned that the situation could get worse as the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic bites.

Mark McBrearty, NFU Mutual's regional manager, said: "We’re very concerned that rural crime is taking an increasing toll on the Scottish countryside at a time when Covid-19 is putting huge extra pressure on everyone’s lives and farmers are working flat out to feed the nation.

"There’s no doubt that very determined organised criminal gangs are targeting Scotland’s countryside and without the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime initiative we would be seeing even higher costs.

"Latest figures from SPARC show that £329,000 of stolen machinery was recovered by Police Scotland between April and June 2020 thanks to shared intelligence and greater use of tracking devices."

Turning to the effect of the pandemic, Mr McBrearty added: "NFU Mutual’s provisional theft claims data for the first half of 2020 indicates that while rural theft fell overall during the early part of pandemic lockdown, we’re now seeking signs that thieves are becoming more active again.

Police Scotland’s Inspector Alan Dron, who co-ordinates SPARC activity, said:"There has not been a significant rise in additional crimes occurring in rural communities – but those which have been committed have resulted in higher value claims.

"This supports the evidence that increasingly serious organised crime groups are targetting and influencing rural crime.

"That is why in April 2019, SPARC published Scotland’s first rural crime strategy which provides a clear focus on tackling serious organised crime.

"This template enables all territorial policing divisions across the country to model their local rural crime partnerships with the same structure, and thus create a more cohesive, professional and tangible approach, regardless of geographic location.

"There’s no doubt that when some of the major players are in prison, rural crime levels fall."

Tom French from NFU Scotland also responded to the report.

He said: "These figures show just how high the cost of rural crime is on the countryside and the smaller communities that live in it.

"These costs have serious psychological and financial impact on farmers, crofters and wider rural economy and communities when they occur."

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