Rural crime: Stolen tractors from Courier country farms being used as ‘international currency’ by brazen gangs

Tractors stolen in Scotland are being used by criminals as international currency, according to leading rural insurer NFU Mutual.

Farmers have been warned to ramp up security as demand for agricultural vehicles and machinery is increasing from criminal gangs across the world.

Robbie Wallace from NFU Mutual said: “Through NFU Mutual’s work to combat agri-vehicle crime, we know that tractors, telehandlers and quads are currently in high demand from organised crime networks who are using stolen goods as a form of currency following tougher money laundering legislation.”

As the main insurer of Scotland’s countryside, NFU Mutual is part of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).

Tractor, telehandler and quad theft costs in Scotland have fallen by 48% in the three years since NFU Mutual, Police Scotland and other partners including NFU Scotland joined forces to tackle farm machinery theft.

Based on the latest NFU Mutual claims data, it’s been estimated that rural crime cost the UK £44.5 million in 2017 – an increase of 13.4% or £5 million since 2016. In Scotland, claims have fallen by 3.8% from £1.6 million in 2016 to £1.5m in 2017.

However, with Police Scotland believing that two thirds of rural crime is still not being reported, Mr Wallace said there is no time for complacency.

NFU Mutual works closely with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS), the Plant & Agricultural National Intelligence Unit (PANIU) and the police to trace stolen tractors, which have been found in the UK, Europe and as far afield as Africa and the Far East.

Two of the most recent vehicles to be repatriated to Scotland by NFU Mutual were a Manitou telehandler and a John Deere tractor worth £96,000, which were seized in Eastern Europe following a coordinated operation.

Despite being given fake identities, the vehicle details were circulated through the police and specialist theft registers which led to their detection and recovery in Lithuania.

NFU Scotland has reminded all farmers in Tayside and Fife to be extra vigilant when securing farm machinery, stock and property as rural crime remains a “blight”.

In response to The Courier highlighting the issue, the NFU confirmed that the beginning of March alone saw three tractors stolen from farmers in Fife.

Farmers are being encouraged to be extremely vigilant and cautious when securing their farm machinery, fuel tanks and property, and are reminded to spread the word of any suspicious vehicles or activities and use 101 to report to the police.

Kate Maitland, NFU Scotland east central regional manager, said: “The ongoing threat of rural crime in the area remains extremely worrying and the union is working closely with the local police to try to find a solution.

“Whether it’s the theft of machinery, fuel or livestock, or the deeply frustrating scourge of fly tipping, rural crime has a huge impact on its victims with the inconvenience and emotional costs almost impossible to fully quantify or cover.

“We are advising members in the area to be extra cautious and secure any vehicles, machinery and property when left unattended.

“Prevention is the best tool we have.

“Social media also plays a huge part. The ability to share images and details of potentially suspicious activity has been utilised by many countryside dwellers and rural watch Facebook pages.”