War in Ukraine sparks rural crime wave across Yorkshire as equipment is sent to Russia
Vladimir Putin’s invasion is believed to have created a thriving black market, after various companies agreed to cut ties with the country and it was hit with sanctions.
Criminals are targeting rural areas in Yorkshire and other parts of the country, looking for valuable machinery and equipment which can be shipped to Europe and then smuggled into Russia.
“In my professional opinion, there is no doubt that when you've got a country that cannot import machinery, criminals will capitalise on that,” said Superintendent Andy Huddleston, the head of the National Rural Crime Unit.
“The crime that we've been dealing with has been very well organised, this is not opportunistic.
“Two weeks ago, working with our colleagues in Rotterdam we were able to intercept a lorry as it landed. The manifest said nothing was inside the lorry, but when they opened it up, there were four excavators and a cattle trailer inside.”
Supt Huddleston said farmers usually report the thefts of around 70 high-value machines each month, but in March there were more than 180.
He said criminals are moving across the country “looking to exploit vulnerable areas” and farmers should remain vigilant and keep their equipment and GPS systems locked away when possible.
Agricultural manufacturers, including John Deere and Dutch firm Lely, stopped shipping machinery and equipment to Russia after the invasion in February last year.
Shortly after war broke out, Russian troops stole harvesters and tractors worth millions of pounds from a John Deere dealership in Ukraine and then shipped them to Chechnya.
It comes as Greg Smith, Tory MP for Buckingham, is pushing for a new law which would require manufacturers of vehicles used by farmers to add security measures, like immobilisers and forensic marking so they can be tracked.
“The inconvenient truth is that many of these thefts are good for business for manufacturers,” said Supt Huddlestone.
“For farming, whenever a quad bike is stolen, the farmer will immediately replace it with another because they need it.”
He added: “It's just not right that manufacturers don’t provide immobilisers as standard and they don't forensically mark.”
April was the second-worst month on record for GPS thefts, according to rural insurance firm NFU Mutual, and costs doubled to more than £500,000 in the first four months of this year compared to the same period in 2022.
The insurer's latest annual report revealed that rural crime cost farmers £40.5m in 2021, GPS systems, tractors, trailers, fuel, quad bikes and Land Rovers.
NFU Mutual is also concerned that criminals could look to attack more farms during the busy harvest seasons and cause widespread delays and disruption.
Last week, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said it met with representatives from 40 police forces to discuss “the growing crime wave sweeping rural Britain”.
“Highly organised gangs of criminals continue to plague the great British countryside, stealing livestock and expensive GPS equipment,” said NFU Vice-President David Exwood.
Lucinda Douglas, Director of the Country, Land and Business Association's northern region, said it has become lucrative for criminals to target farms in recent years, because of a sharp rise in the cost of machinery, equipment and fuel.
She also said they are well organised and some have used drones to carry out surveillance.
“People need to be very vigilant and do everything within their power to secure their property,” she said.