A FARMER has described how he and other landowners are effectively under siege by gangs of travelling criminals, following a spate of highly-organised raids which have netted thousands of pounds worth of vehicles and tools in the last week.
Richard Green says he is deeply disturbed that the thieves appeared to intimately know the layout of his extensive steading at Heckley High House, near Alnwick, including the location of expensive equipment which had been securely stored away.
Among the items taken were a red Honda quad bike, power tools and equipment including two Husqvarna chainsaws, an Oleo Mac chainsaw, an Efco hedge trimmer, strimmer and socket and tool sets.
On the same night, the same gang is believed to have descended on another farm, at North Charlton, making off with four Honda quad bikes, a child’s quad and a black Land Rover Defender, which was later seen being driven down the A1.
Police believe the earlier theft of a white lorry from Rennington may also be connected, as it could have been used to carry away the stolen goods.
And a farm near Rothbury was also targeted over the weekend, losing £300 worth of tools.
Mr Green said: “When I realised we had been burgled, I felt physically sick that somebody knew their way around my farm. The whole thing was very well-planned, targeting sheds, which were not obvious places, to get the machines and tools inside.
“Everything was securely locked away, but they smashed their way through a wall to get around the doors. We hadn’t seen anything unusual around the farm beforehand, so we don’t know how long they had been watching us – it could have been six months ago, for all we know.
“The only advice we have is to make it as awkward as possible for thieves, but they are well-prepared professionals. They have been known to use liquid nitrogen to freeze locks off, or oxy-acetylene cutting equipment.
“The only answer is to resort to steel containers for storage, with internal locks that are hard to get at, or lights and security cameras. I never thought it would come to this.”
He added: “It’s not just the loss of equipment that hurts, but the hassle factor. I’ve lost around three days of work through having to deal with insurance. Quad bikes carry such an excess, unless they are chained to the ground when they’re not being used, that you get nothing back when you claim.
“We’ve also lost the tools which we needed to finish fencing the pasture for the cows, which has been a big set-back. We can’t do anything until we get that sorted.”
But Alnwick Neighbourhood Inspector Sue Peart says a large number of landowners are offering the thieves ‘a sweet shop’ by failing to properly secure their property, even leaving keys in vehicles.
Seven out of 10 farms visited in the wake of the spree were found to show serious lapses in security, according to crime prevention officers. In one case, the keys had been left in the ignition of an unlocked four-wheel-drive, with a purse and credit cards lying in full view in the passenger seat.
Insp Peart has now mounted extra patrols and intelligence operations, saying she has ‘declared war’ on those she brands ‘vultures’.
But she has also called for full public co-operation and is urging farmers to seriously reconsider their own security measures.
“We are determined to crack this trend, but we need allies,” said Insp Peart.
“The public are instrumental in helping us catch these thieves, by reporting any suspicious vehicles or activity. We need to know, so it can be checked out.
“These vultures think we are a soft touch, so they are targeting our community, our farms. They are highly-organised and know exactly what they want, but we can stop them if we work together.”
l Police stopped a suspect vehicle on Tuesday and arrested the driver, who is currently helping with inquiries.
Warrants were also served on properties in County Durham and two further arrests made. Anyone with any information is asked to contact Northumbria Police on 03456 043043 ext 69191 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.