Gangs of 'rural wraiths' use e-scooters to steal GPS systems

3 August 2021, 05:53

E-scooters are being used to steal from farms.
E-scooters are being used to steal from farms. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Gangs of "rural wraiths" have been using e-scooters to sneak on to farms and steal GPS systems, an insurer has revealed.

The silent vehicles have enabled the gangs to get away at high speed and undetected, with quad bikes and ATVs also being stolen, insurer NFU Mutual said.

The cost of claims linked to both the theft of GPS systems and vehicles remained at more than £9 million in 2020, only a two per cent drop on 2019.

However, claims for stolen GPS systems alone almost doubled, reaching £2.9 million compared to the £1.5 million in 2019.

DC Chris Piggott, from the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, a police unit funded by businesses, said: "Rural thieves are becoming more and more sophisticated to get round high levels of security on modern farm machinery.

"The pattern we are increasingly seeing is of gangs who patiently watch farms from a distance to discover where expensive tractor GPS kit is stored.

"They generally return at night to steal, and are now using silent electric scooters to get into farmyards undetected and make off at high speed.

"Thieves are also becoming even slicker stealing quad bikes - watching for hours to rush into farm yards and steal them when they are left unattended for a few minutes."

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That said, the total number of claims fell by 20 per cent to around £43.3 million during lockdowns in the UK.

Despite this, dog attacks on farm animals rose during the pandemic, with more people getting pets as well as visiting the countryside in recent months.

The first quarter of 2021 saw the value of insurance claims by farmers relating to attacks jump 50 per cent, having already risen by 10 per cent to £1.3 million for the whole of last year.

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Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual, said attacks had left farmers with "huge anxiety" while having to deal with the aftermath.

"Coronavirus restrictions, beefed-up security on farms and more effective police rural crime teams provided a welcome fall in rural thefts last year," she said.

"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 cost of agricultural vehicle theft remaining at over £9 million - only a 2 per cent drop in cost from 2019."

The top three counties most affected - by total value of insurance claims - were Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex.

As a result, the company is investing £430,000 in rural security schemes for 2021.