Fighting rising rural crime needs more investment - Andrew Arbuckle

My son-in-law, Alan rubbed his eyes and looked again into the early morning darkness, but it was no good.

Midlothian Rural Crime Initiative launch
Midlothian Rural Crime Initiative launch

No matter how much he peered through the gloom, he could not see his quad bike which he had carefully tethered onto its trailer the night before, ready for an early start to work.

He stepped out of the house for a closer inspection but there was no sign of his trusty steed.

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It was not there. It had been pinched. There was no sign of it. Only the severed wire tether gave an indication that some light-fingered low life had taken a shine to it.

But all was not lost. The vehicle had a little tracker app and a quick reference to my-son-in law’s mobile, brought up maps with little dots tracing the bike’s unauthorized trip to the back streets of Dundee.

The police were called and after surveying the evidence called at the house where the hooligans were resting up after their night’s thievery. Sadly, even with modern technology, there were no close ups of the miscreants as they opened their house door to the local constabulary but it would have been grand to observe their jaws drop and them saying, “It’s a fair cop.”

Mission accomplished it might be thought with justice on this occasion catching up with those on the wrong side of the law, but I am not too sure.

Since covid struck, the already overloaded wheels of justice have ground ever more slowly and with politicians embarrassed by the back log, there seems to be a move to allow lesser crimes to escape the justice system.

It seems a lifetime ago since Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, claimed, in a memorable pledge, he would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

The current Prime Minister seems happier cracking jokes and ignoring major economic problems, so he is not going to worry his deliberately tousled head about a surge in rural crime.

There is growing evidence that thieves and ne’er do-wells see farms and farm machinery as easy pickings. Encouraged by the widening gap in our society, those who feel disadvantaged seek recourse by helping themselves to equipment and fuel belonging to others. A different kind of levelling up, if you like.

It is not just machinery that comes under scrutiny. A week or two ago at the height of the countrywide panic about a shortage of fuel, the rural insurance company, NFU Mutual urged farmers to be vigilant in case any prolonged shortage encouraged fuel thieves to return to the countryside.

The “baddies” are not slow to get off their marks when there are burgling opportunities. The midnight prowlers in Angus had already siphoned off diesel from a potato harvester parked up overnight.

Car manufacturers have made it more difficult for thieves to siphon petrol or diesel from vehicles thus making farm storage tanks and older bits of kit a more attractive target. The Mutual revealed that in 2020 - a year of lockdowns remember - thieves stole fuel in large quantities. The Company’s claims data revealed the average cost of diesel theft in the countryside was £2,120. That is a fair sized tankfull of red diesel.

Bringing it to a local level, the parish in which I was brought up used to have ten family farms in my schoolboy days. Each farm had its own workforce housed in cottages on the farm. That structure has now gone. There are now just four family farms with the rest being managed as out-farms by bigger units that swoop in with a fleet of machinery and flee out again often before the day is done. There are no farm workers in the parish, just family members working on the remaining units. That change will not be reversed but it often means that after the commuters living in the former farm cottages have driven off to work, they leave a pretty empty and vulnerable countryside for those intent on pinching anything not tied down.

My- son-in law did not lose his quad bike, but he lost a day’s work and this happened at a busy time of year. He will face more losses if the theft ends up in court

His investment in tracking equipment paid off and I now expect other farmers and rural property owners to up their security in this battle on rural crime. I certainly will.

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