UK farms targeted by crime gangs for Russia’s black market
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Criminal gangs are stealing farm machinery to send to Russia in a bid to fulfil soaring demand.
The number of burglaries has risen sharply in recent months and police fear the rural crime wave is aiding Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
Thieves are targeting equipment such as excavators and high-value GPS units, which allow farmers to map out fields and plant crops more efficiently.
These are being smuggled into the Eastern bloc, which has seen a huge rise in demand for heavy machinery since Russia invaded Ukraine and the West imposed crippling sanctions.
Supt Andrew Huddleston, who leads the UK’s National Rural Crime Unit, said: “We know from where we’ve recovered equipment that it’s heading to Eastern Europe.”
While Mr Huddleston and his team have no conclusive evidence that the stolen equipment is actually arriving in Russia, he is in little doubt about the final destination.
He added: “If you asked me my professional opinion, for a country that’s under sanctions, then absolutely I would expect the black market to be responding to that. That’s what criminals do.”
Machinery theft in England and Wales has risen by more than 300 percent in the first quarter of this year.
April was the second-worst month on record for GPS thefts, according to rural insurance firm NFU Mutual, with costs doubling to more than £500,000 in the first four months of this year compared to last year.
While thefts have been reported nationwide, East Anglia and the East Midlands are particular hotspots.
Hertfordshire-based farmer Eveey Hunter said rural crime was currently “the worst I have ever known it”.
She added: “Nothing is safe wherever you park it.”
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Heavy farm equipment is thought to be leaving the UK in the back of lorries and containers, though smaller items such as GPS units can also be couriered or parcelled abroad.
Last month, UK officers alerted their Dutch counterparts to a lorry travelling on a cross-channel ferry, which was found to contain four stolen excavators and a horse box.
The government is now backing legislation requiring new all-terrain vehicles and quadbikes to have forensic marking applied at the point of sale. David Exwood, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union, said it was “crucial” manufacturers also “install anti-theft devices in all GPS equipment”.
A Home Office spokesman said rural crime presented “particular challenges” and police forces were being offered extra officers, CCTV and other technology to combat it.
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