Rural thieves must be made aware that they risk long jail terms

Morning View
Morning View

The rise in what is being described as “a new breed of brazen criminals” is a fresh anxiety for farmers when they have plenty of other things to worry about, such as future UK agriculture policy.

Rural crime rose 5.3% last year, according to the insurer NFU Mutual.

We report today on how many farmers are using high-tech security systems such as CCTV cameras, motion sensors, immobilisers on vehicles and tracking devices.

The worrying development in thefts reflects similar trends in society at large, in which car thieves are less likely to try to break into a car and steal it that way than they once were, instead often breaking into a house and try to find the keys. In extreme cases, determined criminals hijack vehicles.

Farms are even harder to secure than suburban homes, because they are typically in a more isolated location and the premises are often sprawling, so it is harder to hear thieves.

This is why protective animals such as geese, llamas and dogs are now being used to provide a long-standing method of alarm. This is by no means a new problem in rural areas — the very first surviving Belfast News Letters from the late 1730s have reports of the theft of horses, which were both highly valuable and highly vulnerable to being stolen. For that reason, the theft of a horse was then punishable by death.

On a much less drastic scale, deterrent needs to be part of the approach to this new wave of crime. Determined thieves behind major burglaries of valuable items, causing hardship and stress to farmers, must face years in prison if caught.

This is yet more pressure on our criminal justice system, but if we need to fund more jail cells, then we must do so.

Likewise for motorcycle thieves who are seizing mobile phones of people on the street, particularly in London.

The British economy has booming employment levels at the moment, in which people have ample opportunity to make an honest living, so there is nothing even approaching an excuse for this wave of calculating criminality.