Lancashire rural crime toll hits £1.6m in a year as crooks target farming communities

A long suffering farmer has spoken of her repeated ordeals at the hands of criminals as an insurer reveals rural crime cost Lancashire’s farming communities almost £1.4m last year.

By Stef Hall
Thursday, 5th August 2021, 10:01 am

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Helen Drinkall hit the headlines when her family’s Chorley farm had £20,000 of livestock stolen in 2017.

But since then, other criminals have targeted their property at Manor House Farm in Anglezarke.

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Livestock are amongst commodities that thieves target in rural communities

She explains: “It’s continuous.

“This October gone, at around 7.30am, a criminal who is really well known in Chorley for breaking into workshops, crashed his car down a steep banking and decided to trespass on our farm and steal a tractor to pull his car back out.

“He smashed the window of every single tractor we own and ripped the ignition wiring trying to get one started.

“He stole our newest tractor which we had only had five months, ploughed through two gates and a wall, and tried to pallet fork his car out.

Helen Drinkall had a tractor stolen from her farm causing £12,000 worth of repair work

“We heard the commotion and chased him and confronted him. He told us a ‘man in the yard’ had said he could borrow it.”

The man was arrested at the scene, but his escapade left them with a £12,000 repair bill, and a further increase to their insurance premium, which was already costing the family a lot of money due to previous crimes, including the theft of four quad bikes three years ago.

Helen adds: “ The problem isn’t the police, they came out straight away - it’s the justice system because there is no deterrent.

“Last week my dad got a follow up saying the man was likely to plead guilty and be ordered to pay ‘some’ compensation or damages - but I doubt he has the funds to pay £12,000 worth.

Tractor similiar to the one stolen on Helen Drinkall's farm

“We’ve become so used to crime, we spent lots of time making sure everything is secure.

“We can’t just hop on a quad bike to rescue a sheep that escaped, it takes time to unlock and get to them.

“I lie in bed thinking ‘did I lock the gate?’

“It doesn’t put me off being a farmer but it is stressful. Security is the last thing I think about before I go to sleep and it shouldn’t have to be like that.”

Theft of livestock and machinery is a constant challenge in the county, with almost three quarters of Lancashire made up of rural land.

NFU Mutual’s 2021 Rural Crime report reveals Lancashire was the fifth worst affected county, although its figures were a fall of just over a fifth from the previous year.

Across the North West, rural theft costs rose 3.3%, making it the only region in the UK to see an increase.

Dog attacks on farm animals surge as pet ownership and countryside visits rise.

The pandemic helped to keep some criminals away from the countryside in 2020, but organised crime gangs continued to plague Lancashire’s farmyards, stealing expensive global positioning systems (GPS), fuelled by demand across the globe.

GPS has become an essential part of modern farming and without it harvests can be delayed, and some farmers left unable to work.

Thieves also stole tractors, quad bikes and tools, with stolen items at an estimated £1,397,000 in 2020.

NFU Mutual reports gangs dubbed ‘Rural Wraiths’ are now using silent electric scooters to steal farmers’ GPS equipment and make off along country lanes at high speed.

A recent joint operation between Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside Police saw three people arrested in connection with GPS theft.

Countryside communities are also falling victim to other forms of crime, including dog attacks on livestock and fly-tipping, with £1.3m worth of sheep and cattle attacked - claims data shows the cost of attacks nationally rose 50% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, says: “Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and dedicated rural policing provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year.

“While lockdown may have locked some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Thieves are now returning armed with new tactics and targets. As the economic impact of the pandemic bites, we are very concerned that rural theft may escalate significantly.

“Last year saw sharp rises in other crimes such as dog attacks on livestock which caused appalling suffering to farm animals and huge anxiety for farmers and their families as they dealt with the aftermath.

“Organised criminal gangs also continued to target farmyards for high-value GPS systems, quad bikes and tractors with the UK cost of agricultural vehicle theft remaining at over £9million - only a 2% drop in cost from 2019.

“There’s no doubt that when we work together with police, farmers, communities and other rural organisations to tackle rural crime it can make a real difference. That’s why we’re investing over £430,000 in carefully targeted rural security schemes this year. The extra funding will help police join forces with local farmers, set up covert operations and recover more stolen machinery from countries across Europe.

“We believe this is vital support because rural crime isn’t just about money to replace stolen tractors. It causes disruption, seriously affects farmers’ mental well-being and destroys the trust which enables rural communities to flourish.

“With more and more people using the countryside, we are urging the public to support farmers and rural communities by reporting suspicious sightings and crimes to the police. Lancashire’s farmers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, keeping the nation fed and caring for the countryside.

“By working together, we can help stem the tide when the criminals become more active again.”

“NFU Mutual’s rural theft figures are used by police forces to help them understand rural crime on their patch and plan rural police responses.

In March Lancashire Police announced a 20 officer taskforce to tackle rural crime.

The same month burglar and ATM thief Brian Thexton, 43, and his brother Ronald Thexton, 36, both of Park Road, Bishop Auckland, were ordered by a judge to pay back ill gotten gains they made through their roles in a criminal gang that broke into rural homes and businesses and ATM machines.

They stole just under £6,000 from a cash machine in Carnforth, trailers and tools worth £12,800 from a business in Goosnargh, a log splitter worth £10,000 from Silverdale, a £14,000 car from Slyne, Lancaster, a safe from a house in Nateby, and a car, designer handbag and clothes worth almost £64,000, from a house in Halton. Brian Thexton is now serving nine and a half years while Ronald Thexton is serving five years 10 months.

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