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Kent named one of the worst places in the UK for rural crime

Highly-organised criminals continue to plague the Kent countryside, stealing expensive equipment, trespassing on private land and regularly fly-tipping tons of rubbish.

A report out today by NFU Mutual has revealed that although the cost of rural theft has fallen, the county remains one of worst hit locations in the UK.

Jos Brynmor-Jones' farm became a fly-tipping hotspot last month
Jos Brynmor-Jones' farm became a fly-tipping hotspot last month

One farmer from Gravesend described it as a "sorry state of affairs" as he claims that every single farmer in his area has been impacted in the past six months.

Jos Brynmor-Jones and his family own land in Harvel, he said: "I don’t know of a single farmer or anyone that works around us who hasn’t had something stolen in the last six months.

"In our area it’s generally small thefts, things like tools. We have a couple of tree surgeons who come round here, I don’t know a single one of them who hasn’t been affected by anything being stolen.

"One of my friends had his GPS stolen. In general, it’s small things that they can carry."

NFU Mutual describe this as an attempt for thieves to get more 'bang for their buck', with GPS systems often costing tens of thousands of pounds.

Matt Wilson from NFU Mutual explains why Kent is a big target for rural crime

Matt Wilson, NFU Rural Insurance Specialist said: "Sometimes these farmers will lose GPS systems at a really critical time of the year, like during harvest, and that can put them back a couple of days and that could be crucial.

"It’s not just the financial impact, it’s the mental impact and it is incredibly distressing, as anyone who has been the victim of any crime will probably attest to."

Last month Farmer Brynmor-Jones' land also became a hotspot for fly-tippers, forcing the family to take matters into their own hands.

His father, 65-year-old farmer Steve Jones, blocked in the perpetrators with a car and was joined by his sons in their tractor and forklift after getting fed up with repeated incidents of rubbish being dumped.

Mr Brynmor-Jones said: "We’re always getting fly-tipping around here, in our area in particular it’s pretty bad for it compared to national statistics. We were getting a series of fly-tipping in the same field over a series of a couple of days.

The fly-tippers' van blocked in at Harvel Farm. Picture supplied by Trevor Jones
The fly-tippers' van blocked in at Harvel Farm. Picture supplied by Trevor Jones

"It drives you mad, trying to catch these people, trying to do something about it. You end up sitting there waiting for them and lo and behold they turned up.

"It has forced us to do something drastic and that doesn’t seem right.

"We shouldn’t be put into a situation where we have to - I don’t want to say put our lives on the line because that makes it seem more dramatic than it was - but essentially yeah, you can’t predict what someone like that would do."

This comes as NFU Mutual report fly-tipping in fields, gateways and country lanes reached epidemic proportions as waste recycling centres restricted access.

The report also revealed a surge in dog attacks on farm animals as pet ownership and countryside visits increased.

The farm in Harvel was plagued by fly-tipping for several days
The farm in Harvel was plagued by fly-tipping for several days

However, the overall cost of rural theft in Kent fell by 25% to an estimated £1,367,000 last year.

Mr Wilson said: "In the five years leading up to last year, rural crime was increasing year on year. Obviously we welcome this decrease, and Kent being down 25% is great news, but we do think it’s that restriction on movement that has had the impact."

The impact of rural theft is far from just the financial burden, the psychological affect on landowners is something that Mr Brynmor-Jones knows all too well.

He said: "We’re always having people driving across crops - I know of a farmer down the road who accosted some of them and he had to leave for his own safety.

"You’re isolated here and I don’t know what we can do about it. It’s scary that we’ve had to do something drastic like try and accost a man ourselves.

Jos Brynmor-Jones describes the impact of rural crime on landowners

"You feel like a trapped victim quite often, and it worries me that something more drastic will happen to one of my friends or local people in the area when they’ve had enough of it."

Mr Wilson added: "I’ve spoken to a farmer who was contemplating packing it in because he got hit a couple of times. He had his son and his grandson in the farmhouse with him and it is that fear because you know that these are organised criminal gangs.

"They could be dangerous, they’re targeting you because they know you’ve got expensive pieces of kit.

"You can imagine the distress of being burgled at your home and also the distress of your business being targeted by crime. These farmers have it two-fold, it's a 'double-whammy' really for them."

NFU Mutual have now pledged £430,000 in funding to aid police in finding the criminal gangs involved, as well as working with the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service and border forces to recover stolen machinery.

Kent Police say they're committed to protecting Kent's status as the Garden of England. Stock Image (49882436)
Kent Police say they're committed to protecting Kent's status as the Garden of England. Stock Image (49882436)

Acting assistant chief constable Vaughan Lukey of Kent Police said: "Whilst it is encouraging that Kent experienced a 25% reduction in the cost of rural crime in 2020 – down to £1.3million - compared to the national average of 20%, we do not underestimate the impact that these offences have on these communities, who often feel isolated and sometimes fearful when targeted by thieves.

"We take all aspects of rural crime seriously and have a dedicated team, the Rural Task Force, who specialise in investigating and tackling crimes in rural Kent.

"In addition to this they work with partner agencies including the National Farmers’ Union, the Environment Agency and local authorities to build a clear picture of rural crime in Kent and organise targeted operations based on the seasonal pattern of offending.

"Since January this year the team has made 66 arrests, seized very high value items and returned them to their rightful owners and investigated cases that resulted in successful prosecutions for theft, burglary and other rural crimes, such as fly-tipping, hare coursing and heritage crime.

"Kent Police has established a strong and long-lasting relationship with the rural communities it serves and its officers and staff are committed to protecting Kent’s status as the Garden of England."

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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