Midlands farmers targeted by criminal gangs during coronavirus lockdown, report finds

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Rural crime has risen in every region in the UK, new data suggests, as criminal gangs targeted expensive tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock.

According to provisional data gathered by the insurance company National Farmers Union (NFU) Mutual, there was a spike in reports of livestock – mainly sheep and lambs – being stolen in April.

Sheep rustling rose almost 15% year-on-year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new figures, as criminals targeted farmers during the lockdown.

Overall in the Midlands, there has been £10.6 million worth of theft.

Lincolnshire has suffered the worst in the country, with £2.8 million worth of thefts - a rise on last year of 11.1%.

Warwickshire is the 7th most affected county, with £1.7 million lost through thefts - a rise of 8.5%.

Leicestershire is 8th with £1.7million - up on last year by a massive 18.8%.

Credit: PA Images

The NFU says the crime is being driven by organised gangs targeting high value tractors and livestock.

Demand for expensive farm kit overseas was also fuelling the rise, the report said, adding that a joint operation by the company and the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, recovered five vehicles totalling more than £100,000 in Poland earlier this year.

The cost of livestock theft also rose 9% last year to £3 million, according to the findings.

The report said: “Well-organised gangs taking large numbers of sheep, which are thought to enter the food chain illegally, are driving the increase.

“A spate of sheep being slaughtered and butchered in farmers’ fields also contributed to the rise.”