Ukraine war sparks rural crime wave in UK: Machinery thefts soar by 300% as criminal gangs trade farm equipment with Russia on the black market after Moscow was hit by import sanctions
The war in Ukraine has fuelled a crime wave in rural Britain as gangsters steal farm machinery to smuggle into Russia.
Police say the conflict has contributed to a 300 per cent rise in machinery theft in England and Wales in the first quarter of the year.
Particularly prized are agricultural and construction machines – such as excavator and GPS units for mapping fields – which are shipped to Eastern Europe before being taken across the border.
While Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus have sought to spare the agricultural sector to avoid global food insecurity, major manufacturers including John Deere have halted shipments to both countries.
The Russian army raided a John Deere factory in Ukraine during the first weeks of the war as farmers struggled to obtain vital spare parts.
Police say the Ukraine war has helped fuel a 300 per cent rise in machinery theft in England and Wales in the first quarter of the year. This is a stock photo
‘In my professional opinion, without doubt the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia are having an impact on rural crime in the UK,’ Supt Andy Huddleston, the head of the National Rural Crime Unit, told the Telegraph.
‘We would normally expect to see around 70 high-value agricultural vehicles being stolen across the country each month but in March we recorded the theft of 180.’
Gangs previously targeted rural regions in eastern England but are now also raiding farms in the North and Scotland, police say.
New research from NFU Mutual revealed the cost of GPS theft in the first four months of 2023 exceeded £500,000, more than double compared to the same period last year.
Some criminal groups are using drones to identify expensive equipment before swooping at night.
It comes as members of the National Farmers’ Union and representatives from 40 police forces met yesterday to discuss the problem of crime in rural areas.
The Russian army raided a John Deere factory in Ukraine during the first weeks of the war as farmers struggled to obtain vital spare parts. Pictured: Vladimir Putin
NFU Vice President David Exwood, who hosted the event, said: ‘Highly organised gangs of criminals continue to plague the great British countryside, stealing livestock and expensive GPS equipment, trespassing on private land and regularly fly-tipping tons of rubbish; their actions significantly impact farm businesses, farming families and rural communities, both financially and emotionally.’
The National Rural Crime Unit was formed recently to help police forces crack down on organised criminal gangs operating in the countryside.