The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the latest statistics for rural crime highlights that despite efforts to curb this, the countryside and farmers remain soft targets for criminals.
It says it will continue to press the PSNI to focus more resources to tackle this, while recognising that individual police officers do their best to engage with farmers, within the limits of the budgetary restraints forced on them. The UFU says those drawing up budgets must recognise that rural areas are exposed, and deserve as much protection as towns and cities in Northern Ireland.
The latest statistics from the PSNI Agricultural and Rural Crime in Northern Ireland: Quarterly Update to 31 December 2016 highlight a nine per cent increase in agricultural crime, with livestock theft an almost daily problem in some areas. Figures from the NFU Mutual, the biggest farm insurer, also suggest the value of thefts is rising, as thieves target expensive machinery and livestock.
“The figures highlight our frustration,” said the UFU’s deputy president, Ivor Ferguson. “We can see from them where the problem is worst – Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon and Newry. In these areas we need the PSNI to respond to these statistics,” he said. The UFU says a major cause for concern is the split between theft in rural and urban areas.
“Despite much smaller populations and housing density, in many areas rural theft and burglary now account for a third and up to half the crime of this nature. That is simply unacceptable,” said Mr Ferguson.
He added that a further frustration for farmers was that when those charged with rural crimes appear before the courts sentences fail to reflect the impact of their crimes.
“The judiciary needs to realise that these are not victimless crimes – but crimes that often leave people feeling vulnerable and isolated in rural areas,” said the UFU deputy president.