A multi-agency campaign has been launched to tackle the problem of ‘cold calling’ criminals at farms.
Devon and Cornwall Police, Devon’s Trading Standards Service and leading rural insurer NFU Mutual have come together to help protect farmers from would-be thieves who stake out farms looking for valuables.
NFU Mutual’s annual rural crime report revealed that the theft of agricultural vehicles cost the UK £7.4 million in 2018, with quad/ATV thefts costing £2.6 million; an increase on the previous year.
As part of the scheme, farmers are being offered a striking sign to display at the entrances to their farms warning cold callers and rogue traders to stay away and bearing the slogan “We won’t buy from you, we won’t sell to you”.
PC Martin Beck, Rural Affairs Officer for Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “A notable cause for fear among rural communities across the South West is the threat of itinerant criminals who tour the countryside on the lookout for opportunities to steal, often turning up in white vans or tipper trucks, looking for items to buy such as batteries or metal, or to offer the removal of such waste.
“Such criminals can be very insistent and intimidating, and may be scoping out the layout of the farm trying to spot items worth stealing. Refusal to engage with the cold caller can lead to threats of violence towards the landowner. Fear of crimes like this can exacerbate feeling of isolation among farmers and the health and wellbeing of rural residents.”
In addition to being offered crime prevention advice and support by police officers, farmers are also invited to become part of the police’s community messaging and Farm Watch initiatives.
PC Beck added: “Once farmers have signed up to the scheme and display the signs, if an unwanted caller attends the farm, the farmer should only engage with them to ask them to leave, and inform them that they do not buy or sell.
Should intimidation or threats be made, the police can record the incident and escalate the Anti-Social Behaviour process. This gives the police an opportunity to engage with the offender to encourage them to stop this behaviour and if they do not, we can apply to the Court for a Criminal Behaviour Order.
“We want rural communities to understand that we take this issue very seriously and that with their support in reporting incidents, we can reduce this type of crime.”
As the main insurer of the countryside NFU Mutual works with police forces across the UK to share detailed statistics and information to tackle the menace of rural crime. The insurer has provided support to the cold caller scheme and is encouraging farmers in the South West to sign up.
Ros Hills, South West Regional Manager for NFU Mutual, said: “The feeling of being ‘staked out’ and reports of suspicious characters visiting farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location can make them vulnerable. Some farmers are so concerned about the risk of rural crime, they feel they can no longer leave the farm unattended which can add to feelings of isolation.
“There’s no doubt that when police, farmers and other organisations work together on rural crime initiatives they get results which is why we would urge farmers to display the cold caller sign and share information about suspicious sightings with their local Farm Watch scheme.”
Maria Endean, Trading Standards Officer for Devon, Somerset and Torbay ,said: “We know many farmers especially in remote areas can get anxious when they are targeted by unwanted cold callers. That’s why we are working closely with the Police and NFU Mutual on this project to show farmers and rural communities that they are not alone, there is support and we are there to help.”
For more information about Farm Watch in Devon and Cornwall visit www.dc.police.uk/farmwatch