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Rural crime insurance claims cost Suffolk and Essex £3.5m

The cost of rural crime decreased in Suffolk last year, according to NFU Mutual  Picture: JAMES BASS

The cost of rural crime decreased in Suffolk last year, according to NFU Mutual Picture: JAMES BASS

Archant Norfolk © 2015

The cost of crime to Suffolk's rural community has fallen by 10% in the last year, according to an annual insurance report - bucking a trend seen nationally, including in neighbouring Essex, where claims topped £2million.

Police on quad bikes used in fighting rural crime  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice on quad bikes used in fighting rural crime Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

NFU Mutual found rural crime cost Suffolk almost £1.119m in 2018, compared to £1.243m in 2017.

In Essex the cost climbed 40% to £2.297m - making it the "third worst hit" county in the UK.

Across both counties, tools, garden equipment and machinery were the most stolen items, according to the annual Rural Crime Report, which put the overall cost to the UK at its highest for seven years.

Despite the fall in Suffolk, NFU Mutual, which sells insurance policies mainly through agents in rural areas, and works closely with the National Farmers Union, said problems persist.

In the last week, Suffolk's rural crime team advised residents to remain vigilant after an increase in church roof alarm activations.

The team comprises experts in rural, wildlife and heritage crime, supported by crime reduction and partnership coordinators in each of the three policing commands.

Meanwhile, each of the 14 rural safer neighbourhood teams has a designated specialist to respond to rural crime and wildlife matters.

Suffolk's police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said the cost of claims would not paint the whole picture, but welcomed the decline, which he hoped had been due to the constabulary's increased focus on the issue.

James Batchelor-Wylam, NFU Mutual Agent in Suffolk, said: "At a time when rural crime is increasing across the UK, the fall in Suffolk is hugely encouraging.

"It's a testament to the hard work of farmers, country people and rural police.

"However, there is no room for complacency. The countryside is facing a major challenge from organised criminals and it's vital that police, farmers and rural businesses remain vigilant."

The report revealed that limited police resources and repeat attacks were the biggest fears for people in rural UK communities, leaving some farmers reluctant to leave their land and attend local agricultural shows.

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Tom Berryman, NFU Mutual Senior Agent in Colchester, said others were combining modern technology with physical fortifications to stay ahead of thieves by digging ditches and building earth banks.

Meanwhile, infra-red beams alerts and 'geo-fencing' have been used to trigger alarms when tractors move beyond boundaries.

Mr Berryman said technology was developing fast, and that use of social media to report crime was working well, while reducing isolation, in some areas.

NFU Mutual said it had invested more than £1.5m to tackle rural crime - funding an agricultural officer through the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NaVCIS) to coordinate farm machinery theft intelligence.

Mr Passmore said the impact of crime can be greater on victims in remote and isolated locations, making them feel vulnerable.

"Solving and preventing crime specific to our rural areas is always going to be a priority, which is why we have a dedicated rural crime team," he added.

Chief Inspector Andy Pursehouse said: "Although we have changing priorities, to which we respond accordingly, we still take rural crime seriously.

"We have become far better at targeting patrols to be in the right place at the right time.

"Communities always work better when everyone pulls together, and that's why it's so important people keep their eyes and ears open for each other."

Chief Inspector, Ian Gennery, who leads the Essex local policing support unit, said a growing team was tackling rural crime, while building awareness of crime prevention and enforcement.

He added: "More than 70% of Essex is rural, but less than a quarter of the population live in rural communities. The land is relatively flat, meaning it is suitable for arable farming, which often incorporates the use of high value agricultural plant that other areas of the country wouldn't use, due to the type of land there.

"The theft of one large piece of equipment can see losses that run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, and therefore, could explain the figures reflected in the NFU rural crime survey.

"We've also been working with rural communities to encourage people to report crime and suspicious behaviour so we can stop or prevent crime happening.

"We are putting more police officers in to our communities to make a safe county even safer but this is a big challenge for policing and one our rural crime strategy looks to address."

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