'I'm not going out at night': Farmers fearful as criminal gangs drive machinery black market

ITV News West of England Reporter Sangita Lal has been shown figures which reveal the surge in demand for heavy machinery since the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions

The British countryside is being exploited by criminal gangs, bolstering a black market demand for farming machinery, according to the National Rural Crime Network. Exports from the UK to Eastern Europe are becoming increasingly common. Three months after Ukraine was invaded, £4 million worth of machinery was stolen by Russian soldiers - linked not just to military tactics, but to Western sanctions too. Tim Passmore, Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, said: "When an economy goes onto a war footing, there tends to be a neglect for components and manufacturing of agricultural machinery.

"On the other hand, because of sanctions, there's a restriction of supply. This is where criminal gangs come in.

"Machinery is attractive for them to steal, and they'll charge a high price for it. We know there are gangs that steal things to order."

Farms are being targeted by organised crime gangs conducting sophisticated operations. Chris Cott says he knew he was being watched by thieves weeks before they stole £15,000 worth of equipment and tools. He said it has made him feel anxious to walk around his own home.

"It took me quite a few days to come out to the farm and see all of it gone... it took me a few days to get used to it," he said.

"It has had a huge impact, because I'm not going out as much as I used to at night."

Some farmers are tackling the problem by hiring private security to watch their fields, complete with military-style surveillance training.

This equipment worth more than £80,000 was on its way to Poland before it was seized in Somerset Credit: Avon and Somerset Police

One way police forces are trying to tackle this is through random vehicle checks., where they look for stolen equipment that has been resold to try and disrupt the network Officers say portable GPS units used for mapping fields are becoming increasingly popular to steal, and are often sold for between £5000 and £15,000. According to the National Farmers Union the costs associated with agricultural machinery and vehicle theft totalled £11.7m last year.

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