Illicit Entrepreneurialism in the Countryside: Selected findings on the impact, dynamics and policing of plant and agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts in the UK

Researcher contact details

Dr Kate Tudor

A: Room 228 Lipman Building, Department of Social Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 8ST

E: kate.tudor@northumbria.ac.uk


The theft of plant and agricultural machinery and vehicles is a significant issue in the UK. According to NFU Mutual figures, the cost of claims made in this area in 2019 was £12.4 million. This overall figure is made up of £9.3 million of claims against agricultural vehicles and £3.1 million in ATV thefts. In both cases, these figures represent a significant increase on the previous year, increasing by 25% and 20% respectively. Crucially, work carried out by OPAL – the national intelligence unit for serious and organised acquisitive crime - identified that whilst incidences of other forms of criminality have seen significant reductions during Covid-19 lockdowns, plant and agricultural thefts have been somewhat insulated from this trend. Thus, during the pandemic and attendant lock-down periods, plant and agricultural vehicle thefts have tended to either reduce by a much smaller percentage, or in some areas, have shown increases during this time. Beyond considerations of cost and frequency, several high-profile incidents - which have resulted in the deaths of both perpetrators and a police officer, and in the criminalisation of victims - have served to underscore both the ruthlessness of those involved in thefts and the harms associated with their offending. When considered alongside emerging evidence which indicates significant links exist between this area of acquisitive criminality and other forms of more serious, and often organised crime, the need for more effective responses to plant and agricultural thefts becomes clear. The following document constitutes some preliminary findings from a research project that has been conducted over the period of around twelve months into the problem of plant and agricultural thefts. It is hoped that the findings of the research offer some insight into the nature and dynamics of theft, the impacts of victimisation, some of the issues around policing in this area, in addition to consideration of some of the commercial dynamics which currently stand as impediments to reducing thefts.

Given the absence of criminological data in relation to plant and agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts, the project was exploratory in nature and sought to consider the issue from multiple perspectives. In the first instance, in order to consider the experience and impacts of victimisation, data was collected through qualitative interviews with those who have had machinery stolen. The project found that the consequences of victimisation were often profound and that a significant amount of criminality and harm remains unreported. In order to explore the dynamics of thefts, their relationship to other forms of offending, the motivations and business models of offenders and the networks involved in the theft and distribution of agricultural machinery, interviews were also conducted with those involved in the perpetration of these offences. It must be noted that, given the complexity of the accessing this group of participants, this strand of the research remains the least developed when compared with others and interviewing continues in this area. Beyond the immediacy of offences, the research also hoped to consider the efficacy of current responses to machinery and vehicle thefts. During interviews with victims, offenders, police officers and those involved in rural watch groups, interviews explored examples of best practice and identified areas in which improvements might be made. Finally, in recognition of the fact that truly effective solutions to theft lie beyond the confines of the traditional tripartite relationship between offenders, victims and the police, interviews were also conducted with people who work in the commercial sector including those involved in the manufacture, sale and insurance of vehicles, in addition to those who work in organisations which represent farmers and rural residents.

The report offers insight into some of the main findings of the project which may be of interest to those involved in addressing plant and agricultural machinery thefts. The document begins with a brief overview of the project’s methodology and data before offering a summary of the findings from this project. The research findings are thematically arranged, with each section offering a brief synopsis of the main insights gained in each area, in addition to any recommendations that the research has been able to formulate. The document is far from an exhaustive overview of the project’s data and thus further information can be obtained on request.

Research Data

The research has taken place over the period of around twelve months and involved conducting in-depth qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders in the problem of agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts. Given that the research was carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic, the vast majority of interviews were conducted remotely, either by telephone or by using video-conferencing technology. However, a smaller number of interviews with police, offenders and victims took place person when legal restrictions allowed. The most recent numbers of participants in each category of interview respondents are outlined below:

Victims: 131

Members of rural-watch groups/ security services: 19

Police officers: 37

Perpetrators: 20

Employees of manufacturing companies, sales outlets or insurance companies, NFU etc.: 36*

* These categories have been grouped together as many participants had concerns about themselves and their data being identifiable.

During the project, Dr Kate Tudor has also supplemented formal research data with ethnographic observations of policing, and the analysis of police data in relation to the theft of plant and agricultural machinery and vehicles. Moreover, wherever possible, attempts have been made to triangulate perpetrator interview data with information taken from the media or police records (PNC, PND, or local force systems) in order to establish the veracity of statements made by respondents. The project received full ethical approval from the Department of Social Science Ethics Committee at Northumbria University (project reference number 23915).

Participants of the study were recruited in a number of informal ways. Victims were principally recruited through online advertising via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and adverts placed on the National Rural Crime Network and NFU’s websites. Adverts for the research were also placed in rural areas in the North East. The nature of victimisation captured in the research is incredibly varied and includes thefts of quad bikes/ ATVs, UTVs, tractors, small plant, telehandlers and GPS systems. Some respondents also had smaller items of farm machinery and generators stolen, but these were usually taken at the same time as vehicles and larger items. Perpetrators were initially identified though a systematic search of a newspaper database. Searches were conducted for suitable cases in the period of the last ten years. Potential participants were then identified, and letters of invitation were sent to their home addresses, or on rare occasions to their solicitors or social media accounts. Of the twenty perpetrators who took part in the research, all but one had been involved in stealing quads/ ATVs, two had been involved in ATM thefts using stolen telehandlers, and the vast majority were involved in groups who stole various items including quads, UTVs, tractors, telehandlers, trailers, boats, tools, generators, fuel etc. Two of these groups were known to have links to international networks. One group was directly involved in the shipping of vehicles abroad while the second had links to an overseas haulage company which was involved in the transportation of machinery abroad. No perpetrators involved in the theft of GPS dome systems were included in the research.

Impacts of Victimisation and Associated Harms


• Interviews conducted with victims suggest that the impact of theft can be profound. In the first instance, theft of machinery and vehicles results in substantial disruptions to victims’ businesses and farming activities. This is not only the cause of significant stress for victims, but can also exert a significant financial impact on those affected. Many thefts took place at significant points in the farming calendar and left victims unable to complete harvests or attend to livestock and other work effectively. This issue was exacerbated by the fact that replacement machinery was much more difficult to source during these periods. Victims were cognisant of the fact their security awareness and procedures were often less stringent during periods when they were extremely busy and tired.

• The collateral damage associated with thefts also caused numerous practical and financial issues for farmers. In many cases, property was damaged during the course of thefts as perpetrators used force to access vehicles from buildings and farmyards. Thus, victims reported serious damage being caused to buildings, locks, gates, having gates removed, perpetrators driving through and destroying hedges etc. In the latter example, the farm was located to an extremely busy main road leaving animals free to stray into danger. The need to carry out urgent repair in order to keep animals safe and secure their property was a source of extreme anger for respondents.

• The emotional impact of victimisation can also be significant. Given that thefts often target enterprises such as farms, this form of criminality is often categorised as business crime, but this approach overlooks the fact that criminality takes place in people’s homes. Consequently, a very high number of victims reported that thefts resulted in a sense of extreme intrusion and that they were left feeling insecure and unsafe in their own homes. This manifested in a number of ways. Some respondents reported feeling incredibly angry and frustrated at the violation of their privacy, property and safety they had suffered. Others described feelings of extreme vulnerability and fear which resulted in them, and members of their family, being unable to sleep or in children being fearful to play outside.

• A recurring theme within discussions with those who had been victimised was the way in which they experienced a sense of extreme responsibilisation for the avoidance of victimisation. This meant that they felt the need to remain constantly vigilant and this was described as being both exhausting and psychologically impactful.

• In some cases, victims had come into contact with perpetrators in the course of an offence and experienced acts of violence. These acts of violence were incredibly varied, but appeared in the main to relate to perpetrators’ attempts to escape rather than their desire to engage in physical contact. Thus, in one example, a farmer had attempted to stop thieves leaving his property and had been caught on the bonnet of the perpetrator’s vehicle which was driven incredibly erratically in attempt to throw the victim off the vehicle. In other examples, victims had been pushed over, punched, threatened with bars etc. so that offenders were able to make good their escape.

• However, in other examples, respondents had been subject to serious and sustained campaigns of threats, intimidation, criminal damage and violence which took place over longer periods of time. The victims in these examples identified the perpetrators as being local to the area and often as belonging to local traveller communities and this was explored and corroborated in subsequent discussions with local police officers. In these examples, victims had experienced vehicle theft at the hands of local nominals, with vehicles having been recovered from local GRT sites in some cases. However, alongside these thefts, victims were also regularly subject to trespass and poaching incidents at the hands of those who were identified as being members of the same community responsible for the thefts. Examples of the types of behaviour reported included acts of criminal damage such as having windows broken, tyres slashed, having broken glass placed in the ground on their property, having security lights smashed repeatedly (as soon as they were replaced) and having storage units for grain and animal feed interfered with so that materials were either lost or contaminated. There were also examples where animals had been harmed which included livestock, but in one example, a farmer’s dog had also been shot. Not only was this experience incredibly traumatic for the farmer, but it also impacted significantly on his ability to continue with his farming activities. In other cases, problematic behaviour was not as readily identifiable and involved rather insidious behaviours which aimed at psychologically undermining members of the rural community. The examples reported were incredibly varied but included perpetrators attending victim’s homes at the same time each night to throw stones at their bedroom window, visibly standing and watching farmers and their families on a regular basis and making veiled threats to harm.

• It was also identified that where victims had gone to the police, or where they had taken steps to protect themselves which were viewed negatively by local nominals, there tended to be an escalation in the seriousness of behaviours. The shooting of the farmer’s dog detailed above constituted one such example, others included having substantial holes dug into a driveway, having fences removed (which allowed animals to escape) and a case where someone had every single pane of glass smashed on their property. Consequently, the rural community’s negotiation of these experiences was such that many no longer viewed reporting these offences to the police as being advantageous, and they thus sought to manage the situation informally.

• In a single separate example, an individual who had participated in a sting ATV scheme with their local police force was the victim of arson after the bait vehicle was stolen and the perpetrator arrested. Whilst no formal evidence existed to link the two events, the victim felt that the two were connected, especially given their temporal proximity.


• In order to avoid victimisation during business-critical periods, members of the farming community should maintain their security procedures equitably throughout the farming calendar. Bodies such as the NFU, might engage in campaigns to raise awareness around these issues and encourage positive behaviours. The research project has explored recent Home Office initiatives around using nudge theory to reduce acquisitive crime and this may be something which could encourage more stringent security practices among the farming community during business-critical periods. These initiatives may be something which could be explored by organisations such as the NFU. Alternatively, campaigns might be implemented at individual force level through rural crime teams which may be able to draw on existing communication networks involving Rural Watch or Farm Watch schemes where they are in place.

• The creation of, and participation in, local rural-watch groups helped rural residents overcome some of the vulnerabilities associated with their positions of geographical isolation. By taking part in such schemes, rural communities were able to share information about potential threats and to collectively, rather than individually, take steps towards their mitigation. This was of enormous practical and psychological benefit as people were able to take steps towards the protection of their communities but also towards feeling less vulnerable. These schemes are not yet universal but their roll-out ought to be encouraged, perhaps by the NFU, but certainly by local rural crime teams. There is perhaps a caveat in relation to how encouragement should take place. If membership of these closed WhatsApp groups is closely guarded, then they can be difficult for offenders to exploit. Thus, discussion of the benefits of these groups also needs also to be carefully approached, preferably in closed member communications so that they are not brought to the attention of offenders.

Victim Experiences of the Police


• Interpretations of police performance were incredibly varied across the country. However, across all force areas, there was a general perception that the policing of rural communities is neither properly resourced nor prioritised.

• Within particular areas, respondents were keen to highlight the exemplary policing practice they had experienced. These areas tended to have well-established rural policing teams with specific, named officers as points of contact for rural communities. They also tended to have rural-watch WhatsApp groups with police involvement. Crucially, these WhatsApp groups were used not only to share information and facilitate more effective responses to rural crime, but also to communicate where the police had been successful in their operations.

• Despite the significant emotional and psychological impacts reported by victims, respondents were almost universally incredulous at being offered victim support by the police which they perceived to be an inappropriate response to acquisitive crime. Rather, respondents were keen for the police to demonstrate their ability and willingness to investigate criminal incidents.

• There was a general perception that insufficient effort was made to secure evidence and investigate thefts. In particular, the perception that the police were unconcerned with attending the scene to collect forensic evidence was a source of significant dissatisfaction among crime victims. Examples were also offered where CCTV evidence had not been collected by police. Where people had such experiences, there was a generally held belief that the police perceived their role as merely providing a crime number in order to facilitate the submission of an insurance claim.

• A significant number of victims and rural residents also reported concerns that police were sometimes unwilling to recover vehicles in cases where tracking data was able to indicate their location, or where their presence on online sales platforms had been identified. In discussions around these events, victims offered three main explanations for the police’s failure to recover vehicles. In the first instance, they perceived a combination of limited police resources and a failure to prioritise rural and acquisitive crimes to play a role in preventing police from pursuing intelligence leads. In a smaller number of interviews, respondents had located their machinery on online sales platforms and were advised by officers that the police would not be able to investigate or contact sellers, nor recover vehicles. Instead, victims were instructed to contact sellers and to arrange to meet the sellers before the police could intervene. Whilst several victims had done so, others were too frightened to approach those selling vehicles for fear of reprisals. This latter group spoke of a sense of extreme vulnerability that related to the fact that perpetrators, who knew where they lived, might identify them and engage in retributive acts following police intervention. Finally, a particular concern appeared to exist around the police’s willingness to intervene where suspects were identified as being drawn from GRT communities. Among many respondents, there was a perception that the police were often unwilling to enter sites in order to recover stolen goods.


• Where the geographical features of a force area incorporate substantial proportions of rural areas, forces should seek to establish dedicated rural policing resources which ought to include the provision of a named contact for rural communities.

• Where possible, local policing teams ought to participate in community rural watch schemes both as a means to improve police-community relations but also to facilitate the flow of intelligence.

• The limitations around police resources notwithstanding, there appears to be significant scope to improve the speed with which police attend the properties of those who have been victimised and to engage in more thorough collection of evidence.

Alternative Forms of Security


• The research identified a growing market in rural private security services. Individuals involved in the provision of these services identified that their decision to move into rural security specifically, was underpinned by their identification of a growing appetite for such provision among rural residents. They discussed the way in which rising crime rates, growing fear of crime and dissatisfaction with the police provided fertile commercial potential for their enterprise. In practice, the nature of these services varied enormously ranging from the provision of situational crime prevention measures, and in particular target hardening initiatives, to surveillance technology and security patrols. Others provided a combination of all measures within one security package.

• The legitimacy of the private security provision also varied significantly. Thus, some services were provided by ex-police officers whilst others worked in partnership with the police. One particularly successful enterprise worked closely in partnership with an extremely progressive local rural crime team and was involved in bait vehicle, dome and camera programmes in addition to suspect surveillance and intelligence gathering. However, at the other end of the spectrum, some of the services being offered within the rural environment were significantly less legitimate and had potential to undermine security within this context. During interview, those operating at this end of the market, spoke of their willingness to use violence against rural offenders and stated that they had experience of doing so in previous occupations. Their capacity for violence was described as being something which rural residents supported as they sought more effective solutions to crime. Thus, the feelings of vulnerability which pervade rural communities are being exploited for profit by groups whose methods have the potential to exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, the problems of violence, unrest and disharmony in rural areas.

• Beyond these more formal responses to rural predation, accounts of rural residents organising against those responsible for acts of poaching, trespassing, intimidation and theft were also offered. There were numerous examples of individuals who had taken it upon themselves to resist the intrusive acts of local offenders, and this might involve individualised acts of confrontation or perhaps more clandestine acts which aimed to deter, or at least demoralise, offenders such as placing spikes on their property to damage tyres of vehicles trespassing on their land. However, four respondents also discussed their involvement in collective attempts to organise against those they perceived as threatening. In these examples, descriptions were offered of the ways in which rural residents and workers engaged in either informal patrols of local areas or took part in a network which would respond to threatening individuals as they were identified. In all four cases, the respondents spoke not only of their willingness to use violence, but also gave examples of where they, and others, had used violence against intruders, which they deemed to be an effective means of dealing with offenders.


• Some very positive examples of partnership working between police and private security companies were observed and, where this occurred, these arrangements appeared an extremely effective means of overcoming some of the limitations associated with the resourcing of rural crime teams. Consequently, partnership arrangements have the potential to facilitate the adoption of more proactive means of intelligence gathering and this is something which ought to be explored by a broader range of rural crime teams.

• The improvement of communication between rural crime teams and local communities has the potential to reduce feelings of vulnerability, and by extension the demand for alternative forms of security (some of which have the potential to exacerbate problems experienced by rural residents). One of the most effective ways of establishing positive lines of communication was through police participation in Rural Watch WhatsApp groups. Not only did this allow local policing teams to improve their knowledge around local incidents, but it also allowed them to disseminate information regarding successful policing operations. Where this occurs, rural communities tend to hold much more positive opinions of the police and relationships come to be underpinned by much greater levels of trust and co-operation.

• These more organic channels of communication also provide fertile ground for the police to share information about recommended security initiatives which might help improve both rural security and fear of crime and help rural residents to avoid falling prey to less reputable and potentially harmful security provision.

Modus Operandi of Offenders: Planning and Scoping of Jobs


• The research offers some limited insight into the ways in which jobs are scoped and planned, though it is hoped that more detailed insight will be gained into these factors as the research develops.

• The experiences of one perpetrator in the research might be considered anomalous in the sense that he had been coerced into stealing machinery. As a result of the drug-related debts the individual had accumulated, he might be deemed vulnerable and considered to be acting under duress. As a result, his involvement in the theft of machinery was limited to the act of theft itself meaning that he was able to offer very little insight into the activities which preceded and followed the theft. Nevertheless, there was clear evidence that the job had been explored in advance as the perpetrator was issued with clear instructions regarding the type and location of the vehicle, in addition to information about security features of the property. Similarly, the respondent had been given very clear instructions on the route he was to take and location in which he was to secrete the vehicle. Thus, whilst he was not personally involved in any of these activities, his experiences very clearly evidence the extent to which offenders plan jobs in advance.

• Beyond the anomalous experiences of this individual, the accounts of other perpetrators also elucidate the manner in which offenders plan and scope their targets. All respondents indicated that thefts were preceded by significant scoping activities which aimed to identify suitable targets, though the extent and sophistication of these activities varied enormously.

• In some cases, the identification of victims involved very basic techniques such as travelling around rural areas in vehicles and making note of potential targets to which they would return, often after a significant amount of time. In one case, the offender had a close relationship with a scrap metal dealer who was not directly involved in thefts but who fed him information about the position of vehicles in exchange for small amounts of money, cannabis and amphetamines. Another respondent had links to an individual who held a job as a delivery driver for a parcel company who fed information back to the group involved in the thefts. Again, it was claimed that the delivery driver was not directly involved in the perpetration of thefts.

• Others were more sophisticated in their use of technology. Very often perpetrators returned to the issue of social media, which they found to be an invaluable resource in their criminality. In the first instance, they accessed the social media profiles of potential victims in order to identify machinery present at particular locations. Beyond the profiles of potential victims, pages of rural community groups, rural watch groups and others such as farming interest groups were also routinely joined in order to understand the ways in which communities organised against crime, the knowledge they have about theft patterns and information about patterns of victim behaviour in addition to the identification of machinery. Social media was also widely used to keep abreast of the activities of police and community groups. This involved ‘liking’ and monitoring police Facebook groups to gain insight into patterns of activity and current priorities so that criminal activity may be more likely to evade detection.

• One respondent who was part of a group who stole significant amounts of agricultural vehicles talked about the way in which a more senior member of the group regularly scoured agricultural publications (in both online and in print) in order to identify possible targets for theft.

• Google Maps were often used by participants to identify farms that might occupy locations which made them suitable targets for theft. Perpetrators also used online maps to explore exit routes from jobs, though in more complicated locations, they also tended to scope out routes physically in advance of jobs. In these circumstances, offenders spent considerable time exploring possible routes which would reduce the likelihood of them being seen, places in which they could pause to secrete vehicles, deactivate security, or load machinery on to larger vehicles.

• Many respondents were involved activities which meant that they spent significant amounts of time in rural areas. Their participation in activities such as hare coursing, motocross and riding quads offered them organic opportunities to scope properties and potential targets for theft. However, in one case, one respondent detailed the way in which they engaged in cycling and walking specifically for the purpose of identifying targets. In this case, the perpetrator had gone to significant lengths in the curation of his sartorial choices in order to make his appearance more plausible.

• Brief mention was made to the use of drones on one occasion, but this line of conversation remained undeveloped and no reliable conclusions can be drawn from these comments.


• Where possible, machinery owners ought to store machinery in places which are not visible from roads or footpaths.

• Machinery owners should remain vigilant regarding those who come to their property purporting to carrying out business activities. If possible, rural residents ought to participate in local rural-watch WhatsApp groups as a means of identifying the presence of, and organising against, such individuals.

• Machinery owners should be more vigilant in maintaining closed privacy settings on social media sites and should avoid posting pictures of machinery. Groups such as the NFU and local rural crime teams might also seek to raise awareness around these issues at events and in media campaigns.

• The research found that online community groups were an invaluable way of communities organising against criminality, but those involved in their establishment and administration must be cognisant of their potential use by criminals. Therefore, groups ought to operate as closed communities and admit only those whose identities can be verified as legitimate. Explicit discussion of information sharing practices etc. ought only to take place in closed forums such as WhatsApp groups, rather than on Facebook sites.

Perpetrator Decision-Making in the Course of Thefts


• Without exception, all participants sought to avoid any contact with others in the course of their offending. They perceived their involvement in criminality as a business activity and the potential for contact with witnesses, or conflict with victims, merely served to interfere with their ability to generate profit and was therefore avoided at all costs. Nevertheless, some had experienced verbal and physical conflict where victims had attempted to prevent vehicles from being stolen and in these circumstances, respondents described a straightforward commitment to doing whatever was necessary to be able to leave the scene, preferably with the vehicle. This involved a willingness to use intimidation and violence.

• The perpetrators’ commitment to executing thefts in a clean and timely manner meant that particular characteristics of the physical environment served to make vehicles more or less attractive as potential targets. In the first instance, offenders spoke of their intense dislike of security systems which incorporated extremely loud alarm systems and flood lights. Among all offenders, these particular measures were viewed with intense disdain on account of their ability to attract the attention of others and interfere with their ability to carry out thefts. In a similar vein, some offenders spoke of their dislike of dogs as they were viewed as somewhat ungovernable and unpredictable, and effective at alerting victims to their presence.

• CCTV at the site of offences did not pose a significant issue for respondents. All respondents demonstrated an acute awareness of the potential presence of CCTV cameras and all were fastidious in taking steps to hide their identity. Nevertheless, they were incredibly wary about the presence of both CCTV and ANPR cameras when travelling to and from jobs. Even though this preoccupation was universal among respondents, only two talked about their adoption of practices which aimed to minimise these risks such as the use of false number plates or altering number plates before a journey. A much greater number, however, spoke about the way in which they favoured remote routes for moving vehicles as they posed much smaller risks in terms of surveillance opportunities.

• For the vast majority of offenders, physical security measures such as locks on vehicles or outbuildings provided very little in the way of deterrence as they overwhelmingly attended sites prepared with equipment that would allow them to overcome such measures, such as hand-held burners or bolt cutters. The need to use this equipment was viewed as a quotidian part of stealing equipment which was neither exceptional nor unexpected.

• All but one of the offenders in the study were involved in the theft of quads/ ATVs. On a number of occasions, offenders discussed their preference for particular makes of ATVs to steal and they explained the way in which their selection of vehicles was determined by their attempts to expedite the act of theft. During these discussions, offenders proved fairly astute in their understanding of which bikes were easier to steal and they described the ease with which particular bikes could be started without a key. They therefore expressed a strong preference for particular makes of ATVs, particularly in situations in which offenders had only a very short timeframe in which to carry out thefts, though their decision-making was also driven by the re-sale value and desirability of machinery.

• Conversations around the issue of tracking equipment elicited incredibly diverse responses from perpetrators and to a certain extent, these discussions were particularly useful in revealing the different levels of sophistication among thieves. Data suggests that whilst some thefts are the preserve of less-sophisticated criminals whose ability to generate profit may be thwarted by the presence of trackers, other groups of highly organised offenders routinely attend thefts with devices which allow them to circumnavigate security measures with great ease. Some of the less organised and experienced offenders displayed very little engagement with technology that would allow them to detect, locate and remove trackers. Rather, they tended to secrete vehicles for a cooling-off period as is customary among many thieves. In other cases, those operating at the lower end of the spectrum of sophistication arranged sales prior to thefts and described the way they stole machinery and hastily passed it on whilst ‘hoping for the best’. This latter approach had varying degrees of success from the establishment of extremely lucrative ‘just-in-time’ theft business models, to myriad undesirable outcomes such as detection and recovery of vehicles, conviction and violent acts of retribution meted out by those further down the chain. For those operating in more organised theft networks, the use of technology to detect, locate and either disable or remove tracking equipment was a routine part of stealing vehicles. A number of respondents described the way in which they were able to disable trackers with relative ease. Of this group, the respondents might be understood to comprise of two separate categories. In the first instance, there were those who disabled trackers very quickly after vehicles were stolen and before they were moved on. These respondents were significantly more organised and adept at criminality than those described above but can be considered to be significantly less proficient than the final group who tended to use signal jammers in the course of offending before taking vehicles to an established location where trackers could be removed and vehicles prepared for sale or transportation. It must be said that this latter group were made up of those with involvement in groups with established international links.

• Perpetrators displayed a keen awareness of the potential to incriminate themselves and were meticulous in the way in which they sought to avoid this. Beyond the behaviours detailed above, two offenders spoke about the way in which they used two-way radios whilst committing offences, rather than using mobile phones. One respondent discussed the way in which he and his co-defendant had burnt out a telehandler after it had been used in an ATM attack with a view to destroying any forensic evidence. One group also chose to change their clothing a number of times between committing offending and offloading vehicles in an attempt to make their identification less likely. This latter behaviour was present at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum of offenders. Whilst these behaviours are not remarkable, they offer limited insight into the ways in which offenders are forensic- and surveillance-aware.


• Evidence beginning to emerge in certain parts of the UK indicates that there may be a trend towards increasing levels of violence associated with plant and agricultural thefts. The accounts of victims collected in this project evidence a concerning level of violence and intimidation associated with this form of criminality. However, whilst the accounts of perpetrators clearly evidence that many have long personal histories of violence, that they are willing to resort to acts of violence during the course of thefts, and that they are characterised by a degree of ruthlessness, their strong preference is to avoid this eventuality which they see as an act of last resort. With a view to reducing the harms associated with thefts, therefore, bodies such as rural crime teams, the NFU, CLA etc. may play a role in offering advice against, and advertising the dangers of, intervening in thefts.

• Despite the very small number of perpetrators in the study, they were unanimous in their dislike of security systems which combined loud alarms and flashing/ flood lights. The efficacy of such measures in deterring offenders is worthy of further exploration with a view that the measures which cause greatest inconvenience to offenders can be promoted in SCP advice offered by bodies such as the police, Farm Watch, NFU etc.

• Part of the attraction of rural areas for perpetrators was the sense that they were less likely to observed, interrupted or recorded carrying out their offences. Rural landscapes and roads offered them a greater degree of freedom from forms of surveillance which pervade urban locations. Whilst this is undoubtedly accurate, a significant number of rural residents and business have CCTV systems which could prove an invaluable resource in identifying and tracking offenders. However, very often CCTV footage remains an untapped resource given the police’s limited resources in responding to acquisitive offences. In several areas, attempts have been made to create a local CCTV database which allows individuals and business to register the presence of their cameras so that their footage might be called upon in the event of an offence. The extension of such schemes has enormous potential to allow rural communities to overcome some of the vulnerabilities which relate to their seclusion. Exploration of the possibility of creating a police-owned database which includes the CCTV of private individuals, businesses, public places and transport networks could provide an extreme useful tool in tackling offending beyond the narrow confines of plant and agricultural thefts.

Transportation and Disposal Routes


• The findings of the study are able to offer very limited insight into the techniques used by perpetrators to transport and dispose of stolen goods, though again this element of the research might be developed more fully in the future.

• For the most part, respondents existed in social and professional networks which allowed them access to both the skills and equipment to facilitate theft. Many of the perpetrators had experience of working in areas such as groundworks, construction, waste disposal, transportation and agricultural work meaning that they had a sound working knowledge of machinery and had access to vehicles used to transport stolen goods. Moreover, the networks in which they were embedded, were made up of people who routinely operated in the liminal space between licit and illicit economic activity and thus provided a rich web of relationships which could be called upon in order to transport and sell machinery. Thus, whilst some people had access to vans and lorries as part of their work which they used to transport vehicles, others merely called in favours or paid acquaintances for access to their vehicles. These third parties were described as being unconnected to thefts and being fundamentally disinterested in, unconcerned by, the nature of what the respondents asked of them. They were described as merely asking no questions in exchange for a fee, with these jobs simply representing an extension of their normal practice of operating in the grey and black economies. Thus, sometimes acquaintances would be called upon on an ad hoc basis to provide a vehicle to transport vehicles from where they had been secreted. In other examples, more long-term relationships existed whereby those involved in the transportation of grain, for example, would regularly transport vehicles across the country to places where dealers or other recipients were located.

• The same networks also offered perpetrators opportunities to sell their goods, as they, or their associates, often required small plant for work, or quads/ ATVs and bikes for recreational purposes. This method of disposing of property was reported fairly infrequently, but it was clear from the data that informal networks exist in which both vendors and recipients of stolen vehicles exist organically meaning that vehicles can be sold without contact with formal businesses or sales platforms. Often, when this took place, WhatsApp, SnapChat and Facebook Messenger were used to identify purchasers and arrange sales.

• A significant number of perpetrators were embedded in a network of unscrupulous machinery dealers who operated on or beyond the margins the legality. Established relationships meant that machinery could be sold on very quickly, or in some cases, sales could be arranged prior to the theft in order to be sold on or stripped down for parts.

• The recent proliferation of online marketplaces furnished perpetrators with ample opportunity to sell stolen goods directly. Among the respondents there was a clear preference towards platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and Ebay, but they also used SnapChat and Facebook (not Marketplace) to move goods.

• Beyond these more formal sales channels, some offenders discussed the way that they had established contacts within the local community to whom they c were almost always able to sell their goods. Two respondents discussed their links to members of their local (settled) GRT community among whom there was a strong market for machinery. Established relationships with these individuals meant that machinery and small plant could be moved on very easily and it was their understanding that they were sold on via informal networks. Their understanding of the destination of the vehicles they sold was extremely limited though one believed that some were moved abroad, but this remained unsubstantiated.

• The operations of two respondents, however, had confirmed international links and both were reliant on relationships with overseas haulage companies to move machinery out of the country. Both had established contacts abroad (one in Eastern Europe and one in the Middle East) to whom they sent vehicles. The haulage companies, however, were registered in different countries to those for which vehicles were destined.


• On account of the regularity with which offenders sought to dispose of goods via online sales platforms such as E-Bay and Facebook, exploration of potential mechanisms by which the number of stolen goods appearing on the platforms can be reduced must constitute a priority. Some very positive work in this vein is already being pursued by both NaVCIS and a current Home Office Working Group into which the current research feeds. However, further work around the ultimate destination of products is also needed in order to address the problem from a demand-led perspective. Crucially, proactive policing of stolen GPS dome systems recently carried out by NaVCIS indicates that whilst the theft and distribution networks for stolen goods are international in nature, often those buying the products online are located within the UK. Therefore, significant work needs to be done around educating those who buy second-hand plant and agricultural equipment with a view to influencing their decision-making. In the first instance, approaches which seek to empower consumers with the ability to make appropriate checks on the provenance of goods may mean that the demand for stolen goods can be reduced by taking simple steps towards the democratisation of information. The exploration of technological innovations which may facilitate this remains part of the scope of the Home Office working group mentioned above, but wider consideration of how bodies such as the NFU, CLA, AEA, CEA, etc. may also assist in the provision of public information campaigns would also be of benefit. Where approaches which focus on empowerment remain ineffective, the exploration of more coercive attempts to extinguish demand through the seizure of stolen goods may be explored by national policing teams such as NaVCIS and OPAL.

Illicit Entrepreneurialism of Offenders


• Data from the project clearly evidences the fact that those responsible for plant and agricultural thefts are involved in other forms of criminality and that crucially, the perpetrators move flexibly between these various forms of enterprise in response to their assessments of profitability and risk. All perpetrators in the study were involved in a range of criminality. Information on their offending history was collected during interviews and in some cases, subsequent checks were made on PNC/ PND to explore this further. All of the respondents in the study had a long-term commitment to acquisitive offences which included residential burglaries, a wide spectrum of BND offences (including the theft of medical equipment), shoplifting and dog thefts to name but a few. There were also links to wider forms of offending including supply of Class A, drug importation, violence and weapons offences in addition to established links with active OCGs. In terms of their acquisitive offending, none of the respondents demonstrated commitment to a particular type of theft. Rather, the skills for perpetrating thefts and the markets for the disposal of goods were sufficiently flexible so as to accommodate a wide range of goods including plant and agricultural vehicles, trailers, bicycles, tools, boats, metal, fuel and generators.

• The geographical and temporal distribution of perpetrators’ offending was heavily influenced by their assessments of police activity and community organisation against crime. Many discussed the way in which they avoided the concentration on particular forms of theft within small geographical areas for protracted periods, as this was known to attract greater attention from police and communities, and ultimately, make their lives more difficult. Some respondents were therefore cognisant of the need to diversify their offence types and to move their activities regularly, both within and between, force areas in order to avoid attracting too much attention. For many, but not all, their criminality involved covering substantial geographical areas and for those more organised offenders, there was a tendency not to offend on their home force territory. In one example a group in the South West had a reciprocal arrangement with another group whereby they would ‘spot’ targets on each other’s behalf so that they could travel to each other’s area to carry out thefts. During our conversations, a number of offenders were able to identify areas in which they felt that the police had very strong rural crime teams and their assessments proved fairly sagacious.

• Two respondents also talked about areas in which they felt community responses were making it more complex to carry out thefts. In these examples, perpetrators discussed the way in which they felt residents were too often aware of their presence to the extent that they felt their arrival was being pre-empted by local inhabitants. Whilst the reasons for this cannot be confirmed, it may be indicative of the successful functioning of a rural-watch community group.

• Finally, the demand for particular goods was also reported to drive the activities of perpetrators as they chose to focus their attention on those products which offered high rates of return. Their ability to identify and respond to changes in demand for products was fairly remarkable and this was indicative both of their entrepreneurial flair and their possession of transferable skills which allowed them to diversify their criminal activities.


• Greater recognition of the flexible entrepreneurialism present within criminal communities must be made so that policing responses can be triggered by the proliferation of offending which moves beyond a narrow M.O or target offence type. In many cases, the categorisation of broader ‘rural crimes’ may assist in this matter.

• However, analysis of crime patterns cannot remain wedded to force level data if insight is to be gained into the activities of nominals who routinely, and often strategically, move between force areas in the knowledge that their activities evade the attention of the police. Some very positive steps towards cross-border information sharing have been taken in pockets throughout the UK, but these approaches need to be much more coherently rolled out so that the efficacy of police responses can be improved.

• Given the propensity of perpetrators to travel substantial distances to offend, the development and distribution of an ANPR Hotlist would be of great benefit in helping to develop a national picture around the movement of nominals and to help prepare forces for the arrival of those with an intention to offend.

Officer Experiences of Policing Plant and Agricultural of Thefts


• Across the country some exceptional examples of policing plant and agricultural vehicle thefts were identified at individual force level. Thus, within particular areas, officers were incredibly proactive in gathering and sharing intelligence, liaising with neighbouring forces and engaging with officers and units operating at a national level to address plant and agricultural thefts. However, this was not universal and throughout interviews, officers sought to draw attention to the barriers they routinely faced in their work tackling this form of criminality.

• Generally speaking, the policing of rural crime is chronically under-resourced. In some force areas, rural crime teams have been established, or rural officers appointed. However, even where these are in existence, rural officers can still face challenges such as having no vehicles and they are often burdened with the need to constantly bid for resources to carry out everyday policing activities. Moreover, given the low number of officers and limited resources associated with rural policing, officers felt constrained in their ability to engage in proactive, intelligence-led operations as such a significant proportion of their resources were taken up by response policing. Inevitably, this undermined their ability to engage in many of the key activities necessary for effective policing in this area including the building of problem profiles, the development and sharing of intelligence and cross-border working.

• Despite the issues around the resourcing of rural policing, a number of force areas engaged in exceptionally innovative and effective practice, but they felt that these efforts could be much better supported at a national level. In particular, they felt that representation of rural crime teams was lacking and that the establishment of regular national forums under stronger leadership, would be of enormous benefit to those working in this area.

• Beyond the more general issue of rural crime, a significant number of officers sought to highlight the exemplary practice of NaVCIS’ DC Chris Piggott in supporting them in policing plant and agricultural thefts more specifically. The support offered by NaVCIS in knowledge, training and information sharing was considered to be an invaluable resource in the fight against machinery thefts. On a number of occasions, officers described the way in which short-comings in cross-border intelligence sharing were laid bare in instances where information shared by NaVCIS originated from neighbouring forces.

• Cross-border intelligence sharing was a recurring issue in every single police interview, given its salience to the problem of machinery and vehicle thefts. Some forces had been proactive in creating initiatives to improve the flow of information across force boundaries and these included both official operations in addition to more informal practices. Where formal initiatives have been established, relationships tend to exist between a number of neighbouring forces whereby information is regularly shared via bulletins and crimes can be tagged with a specific operation name as they are called in. The development of these initiatives has proved incredibly useful in identifying cross-border criminality and has been pivotal in establishing intelligence around offender networks, offending patterns and disposal routes for stolen goods. Some of these collaborations have coalesced around addressing specific offence types such as dome thefts, while others address more general cross-border offending. In discussions around these formal arrangements, some officers sought to highlight that official channels of information sharing tended to be incredibly slow and that, in practice, they often sought to circumvent these communication processes and contact officers directly with whom they had an existing relationship. In a number of other examples, groups of neighbouring forces had established less formal approaches to cross border information sharing, whereby officers would meet regularly to discuss their crime problems and nominals of interest. Both of these approaches were of incredible value in developing greater congruence between the activities of the police and the cross-border offending of criminals. However, by their very definition, these policing groups had borders, and the fact that they were unable to incorporate information from force areas which may be of importance, highlights the need for the improvement of wider information sharing practices. In some cases, even less formal approaches involved the use of WhatsApp groups to share information in real time, both locally and nationally. Often these approaches sat alongside more formal arrangements and were interpreted as a uniquely effective measure in allowing information to be shared in a timely manner. Other forces suggested that they did very little by way of liaising with other policing areas and they were cognisant of the severe limitations this placed on their ability to address criminality.

• Whilst the effective use of PND offers a means to overcome some of the shortcomings around cross-border intelligence sharing, a number of issues were identified by officers which they felt impeded the realisation of this potential. In the first instance, there was a general perception that PND was chronically under-used by officers who tended to rely more heavily on PNC and local force systems. Crucially, this meant intelligence relating to nominals known to be involved in cross-border offending was missed by those involved in the policing of plant and agricultural vehicle crimes. Consequently, many officers suggested that more training on the use of PND would be of enormous benefit to the policing of cross-border criminality. There was also suggestion made that PND training could also be tailored towards helping officers to utilise PND more routinely as a means of recording intelligence.

• Where officers were using PND, they often reported difficulties in obtaining support to flag particular nominals or vehicles relating to the perpetration of machinery and vehicle thefts and they felt that more support was needed to achieve this.

• Where police had identified organised criminality in plant and agricultural thefts, they reported difficulties in achieving the recognition of these groups as OCGs. Very often, plant theft groups remained unmapped because of their failure to meet prioritisation thresholds in relation to threat, harm and risk. Other officers reported issues around the mapping of particular groups when offenders were predominantly drawn from a particular family. In these instances, officers were advised that groups could not be mapped, despite the fact that they functioned as an OCG.

• For those involved in policing these offences, the quality of police data and systems was a source of significant discontent. A number of obstacles to the successful recording and retrieval of information were identified and these issues made it quite impossible to generate meaningful data. Whilst problems with recording practices exist across all crime types, the issue appeared to be particularly acute in relation to plant and agricultural thefts. This issue related to the limited knowledge of call-handlers, and in many cases officers, in relation to this type of specialist equipment. This means that very often, vehicles were improperly recorded in the first instance, meaning that they could not be subsequently retrieved for analysis. As a result, many theft occurrences simply do not appear in official statistics which, as a result, are not able to offer anything approximating an accurate reflection of the reality of offences.

• For those working as vehicle examiners, the replacement of POLKA with the Knowledge Hub was something which adversely affected their work as the new forum was something which was deemed inferior in offering support to identify, and work with, obscure vehicles. It was suggested that support offered by NaVCIS had been extremely useful in overcoming the limitations of the new system but given the limited resources of NaVCIS, this is not sustainable. Therefore, attention to the ways in which the new system might be improved in order to more effectively support vehicle examiners would be of enormous benefit.

• Some of the accounts offered by officers regarding the policing of criminal elements of GRT communities reflected the concerns raised by victims of crime detailed above. In some cases, officers felt that they were restricted in their ability to provide effective policing within these communities. This manifested in a number of ways. Firstly, where force areas have a particular issue with members of the criminal element of the GRT community committing thefts, they felt constrained in their ability to discuss these issues, and by extension, formulate meaningful policing responses. In the second instance, officers discussed that they sometimes felt unsupported in requests to enter sites and recover vehicles. The research found that this issue was not as significant as rural residents imagined, as a great deal of false information existed around these events. Nevertheless, there were examples where police were unable to justify the resources necessary to enter sites, or where officers felt that sites were policed less thoroughly than other communities on account of political sensitivities or assessments of risk.

• However, some of the strategic decisions made in relation to the recovery of vehicles were underpinned by the desire to minimise harm. In discussions with those employed by manufacturing or tracking companies, respondents were appreciative of advice offered by the police where the potential for significant harm meant that it was inadvisable to recover vehicles. This was something regarded as extremely valuable by respondents who felt that it enabled them to carry out their work without exposing themselves to undue risk.

• As some vehicles within the UK are stolen for export by international OCGs, their identification, location and recovery has inevitably been impacted by Brexit and the demise of the Schengen Agreement. As a result, police are dependent on personal contacts with officers abroad or on accessing their force’s SPoC for Interpol’s EASF access, to which numerous barriers exist in practice. This means that it is increasingly difficult for officers overseas to identify if UK machinery is stolen and for UK officers to liaise with those working abroad to locate and recover stolen vehicles.


• First and foremost, greater prioritisation must be given to the resourcing of policing rural and acquisitive offences in recognition of their associated harms and links to serious and organised criminality. Where this proves difficult, sharing of best practice in relation to innovative ways of resourcing teams such as obtaining demonstration vehicles from manufacturers, or ways of liaising with private companies to provide bait machinery and vehicles and intelligence collection services would be of enormous benefit.

• The current role played by NaVCIS’ Rural Vehicle Crime Officer has been pivotal in connecting police officers operating in disparate police force areas. The extension and development of this work is vital to effective policing in this area, as it has proved invaluable in equipping officers with specialist knowledge in relation to plant and agricultural machinery and vehicles, vehicle registration and security schemes, in addition to technological advances in the M.Os of offenders. Recognition of the success of this work ought to reflect the importance of offering further support to it in the future.

• The development of Operation OPAL, and more specifically the Agricultural and Construction Equipment (ACE) Team, represents a very hopeful development in cross-border information sharing. The national theft forums they have held so far in relation to quad and dome thefts have been very successful in highlighting the continuity of crime problems and the activities of nominals across force areas. However, Op OPAL is limited by the same shortcomings of police systems as local forces and thus their capability in meeting national intelligence needs would be greatly enhanced by the exploration of improvements to police data systems. In the first instance, the provision of resources to facilitate more widespread training for both officers and call handlers in relation to recording vehicle details more accurately is incredibly important. However, the outcomes of this training might be more impactful if a review of data fields in local police systems also takes place to ensure that the correct information is mandated at the point of recording. Beyond this, the exclusion of PND from CGI’s current reforms of national systems appears to offer an opportunity to explore and implement potential reforms of PND which might make data more accessible in the future. As a starting point, a review of the way in which data can be more accurately tagged and classified so that it may be more amenable to accurate retrieval processes is necessary. However, there are also potential options to develop technological solutions outside of existing systems. The research has identified several projects, both within the UK and abroad, which are attempting to overcome some of the problems associated with the creation of accurate data sets in relation to acquisitive criminality. Whilst these systems are at an inchoate stage of development, their ability to amalgamate information from across force areas and to create a more accurate reflection of national statistics through their homogenisation of theft and recovery data sets is clear, and this is something which warrants further consideration.

• Police officers from across the country have proved incredibly resourceful in their attempts overcome the inadequacies of current information and intelligence sharing systems and WhatsApp has been at the centre of many of these innovations. However, many forces have recently taken steps to remove WhatsApp from police phones on account of concerns around data security and this has significant potential to undermine several channels of communication which are of central importance to effective policing. Therefore, timely identification of alternative means of more effective information sharing is of great importance. It may be that reviews of responses to acquisitive crime currently underway may be able to accommodate consideration of the potential to develop a new app for use within the police in which officers could share intelligence in real time and who’s use could be democratised beyond the limited numbers of those who currently have access to PND.

• Just as the potential for technological innovation and the development of alternative information sharing processes have the potential to improve domestic policing, these approaches also have the potential to help overcome some of the problems faced in relation to international policing, post-Brexit. In particular, a current project around identifying stolen property in British policing, which is still in its infancy, has great potential to contribute to the amelioration of the issues faced by officers involved in policing machinery and vehicle thefts at an international level. These findings will therefore be fed into the group with a view to exploring this further.

The Crime-Industrial Complex: The Commercial Dynamics of Theft

• Beyond the traditional tripartite relationship between offenders, victims and the police, the research has identified that a unique set of commercial circumstances also serve to exert significant influence over the dynamics of machinery and vehicle thefts. The nature of these issues is complex and involve conflicts of interest which exist among machinery dealers, manufacturers and insurers. During conversations with those involved in the world of machinery manufacture, sales and insurance, the commercial implications of addressing thefts was a regular point of discussion. Many sought to highlight the way in which alterations to current arrangements had the potential to economically disadvantage companies operating in these fields and others went further in suggesting that particular parties derived tangible advantage by failing to contribute meaningfully to attempts to reduce theft. With a view to resolving these issues, the NPCC Lead for Agricultural Machinery and Vehicle Thefts, Superintendent Andy Huddleston – supported more recently by the Deputy President of the NFU, Stuart Roberts – has organised a series of national forums between stakeholders. However, whilst some positive initiatives have come to fruition on the back of these talks, many of the fundamental issues remain unresolved.



• In the first instance, the realities of agricultural insurance were identified as being problematic by research participants including police, manufacturers, those working in rural interest organisations, in addition to victims themselves. Among a very broad range of respondents there was a strong perception that the details of insurance policies failed to incentivise improvements to security as they neglected to offer meaningful discounts in exchange for the adoption measures such as the use of tracking systems on machinery. This was a source of significant frustration for policy holders and for those attempting to effect behavioural change among machine owners.

• Throughout the research, a more fundamental and intractable issue was also identified in relation to the under-writing of agricultural insurance policies whereby insurers were identified as offering pay-outs for machinery which had keys left in them. Again, this issue was raised by a range of stakeholders including police, victims, those working in rural-interest organisations, in addition to those working in the manufacture and sale of machinery. Among these stakeholders, there was a belief that insurance pay-out conditions had a significant deregulatory effect on the conduct of machinery vehicle owners who, once again, were offered little incentive to adopt better security practices. During interview, many victims were very open about the way they had been remiss in securing their machinery and were accepting of the role played by their behaviour in facilitating theft. Thus, victims reported having left tractors with GPS systems unattended in positions visible from roads overnight, leaving machinery out overnight and leaving keys in vehicles. In relation to the latter, farmers reported that their willingness to leave keys in vehicles related to the unique dynamics of the farming industry and their failure to consider that they might be victimised, but many suggested that they no longer continued this practice following their victimisation. When respondents stated that they continued to leave keys in machinery despite having experienced theft, they were open about the way in which they were confident that their vehicle would be replaced quickly in the event of a theft and that this was enough to discourage them from being inconvenienced by having to remove keys. It must be stated that those in the latter group were exclusively made-up of those who had had quad bikes stolen rather than larger machinery. Their accounts, therefore, were clearly indicative of the potential for the reform of policy conditions to contribute to better security practices in the industry. Moreover, research data suggests that significant support for reform might also be located among members of the farming community who were unreservedly positive about the service they received from their insurers but were also simultaneously cognisant of the way in which pay-out conditions contributed to cultures of irresponsibility and rising insurance costs. Discussion, of this issue with those working in the sales, manufacturing and insurance industries underscored both the difficulty and importance of effecting change in this area. The potential reform of pay-out conditions was considered in the insurance industry as being of enormous commercial consequence on account of its potential to alter current market-place dynamics and, for this reason, it was approached with extreme trepidation. However, the amendment of policy conditions was perceived by many working in the manufacturing industry as a pre-requisite for their participation in processes of negotiation and reform to reduce thefts by making improvements to machine security in particular areas of the agricultural vehicle market.


• Urgent consideration of the ways in which insurance companies can incentivise better security practices among policy holders is required. In the first instance, this requires reforms to policy conditions so that meaningful discounts are offered in return for the adoption of anti-theft measures such as trackers, immobilisers or appropriate situational crime prevention measures.

• Beyond this, the issue of policy under-writing where customers fail to remove keys from vehicles needs to be examined. The introduction of financial penalties for the lax security practices which exist within parts of the farming and construction industries have great potential to generate positive cultural change. Recognising the potential impact on the commercial interests of insurance companies, steps towards the adoption of these reforms ought to incorporate the industry as a whole in order to ensure equity among competitors.

Machine Security


• The issue of vehicle security was also identified as playing a key role in determining the dynamics of machinery thefts. Historically, the inadequacy of security features of plant and agricultural vehicles has played a significant role in the facilitation of theft. The absence of immobilising technology and the use of universal keys, for example, have meant that often theft requires very little skill or effort on the part of offenders. However, significant improvements have been made in many areas of the market including the fitting of RF ID keys to most tractors and digital keys to some plant equipment, such as JCB machines. Mirroring the effects of improvements made to car security, the introduction of this technology has had an incredibly positive effect on reducing rates of theft among newer machines. However, the adoption of these forms of anti-theft technology has been far from universal and huge swathes of the plant and agricultural vehicle markets remain unreformed. Inevitably, this means that particular vehicles remain much more accessible to thieves.

• Among agricultural vehicles, one area of the market lags very conspicuously behind others in the extent to which improvements to machine security have been adopted, namely ATVs and quads. Here, whilst companies such as Can-Am have introduced chipped keys, other manufacturers have failed to introduce this technology to their products meaning that they can be stolen with great ease and speed. Moreover, significant resistance appears to exist among manufacturers towards adopting the modification to their machines that would bring them in line with the rest of the sector. During the research, these issues were discussed at length with those working across the sectors of machinery manufacture, sales and insurance in order to explore the barriers to achieving change.

• One of the arguments against moving towards factory-fitted immobilisation is that rates of theft in Britain far outstrip those in other countries and thus, as manufacturing processes service global demand, there simply isn’t the wider demand for increased security to justify alterations to manufacturing processes. However, as part of the research, figures from a number of other countries were obtained which call into question manufacturers’ arguments around British exceptionalism in relation to thefts. Instead, these figures demonstrate that countries including New Zealand, the US, Sweden, Canada, France, Finland and Ireland all have rates of theft higher than the UK when considered in relation to their population size. The global continuity of the problem of ATV theft indicates that any modifications to improve the security of bikes at the point of manufacture have the potential to contribute to the amelioration of crime problems beyond the borders of the UK.

• A second line of argument against making amendments to manufacturing processes related to the significant research and development investment necessary to effect change. However, the fact that remains that many of the leading manufacturers already own and use this technology on vehicles such as their road bikes, though this is not true of all companies as motorbikes produced by Suzuki, for example, do not currently come with immobilising technology.

• Increases to vehicle costs were portrayed as the inevitable outcome of introducing security features at the point of manufacture and the issue of consumer sovereignty was regularly raised as an argument against pursuing change which would result in the raising the cost of machinery. Rather, the provision of after-sales security in the form of trackers and plug-and-play-immobilisation was considered preferable by manufacturers on account of the lower costs associated with its installation and the fact that consumers could freely elect to participate. To this end, some ATV manufacturers have introduced schemes to incentivise purchases of post-sale security devices whereby trackers and immobilisers are provided at a reduced cost, should the consumer cover the fitting fee and subsequent monthly subscription payments. However, there was also suggestion made that there was very little to incentivise dealers to encourage take-up as they did not stand to derive any profit from the current arrangements. During interview, some manufacturers alluded to the fact that the take-up rate for these products remains intractably low. Data from interviews with victims, farmers and rural residents offers insight into why this may be the case as respondents often expressed a desire to avoid contracts which required monthly subscription payments. Beyond a general dislike of regular payments, respondents found it hard to justify these ongoing costs when they knew that vehicles were likely to be replaced swiftly in the event of a theft. Thus, contrary to manufacturers’ arguments around the need to protect consumer sovereignty, evidence indicates that consumers will not routinely elect to participate in additional schemes to improve ATV security, particularly where these measures involve ongoing subscription fees. Moreover, the research indicates that significant appetite for change exists within the farming community regarding improvements to bike security. The inadequacy of farming vehicle security was a recurring issue in interviews with victims and rural residents, as respondents regularly sought to raise the issue. Victims were incredulous at the way exceptionally poor security measures existed as standard in their sector. Improvements made to tractor security were often cited as an example that ought to be applied within the context of quad bikes.

• Nevertheless, the general move throughout the industry towards the greater adoption of tracking systems must be welcomed as a positive step, though given offenders’ increasing capabilities in overcoming this technology, it cannot be considered a panacea to the problem of theft. There was a general acceptance of this fact among respondents who identified that as the industry as a whole moved towards the standardised use of trackers, the potential for their efficacy to be undermined was very significant as thieves would become increasingly aware of the need to locate and disable devices as a routine part of their offending.

• Other positive steps have been taken by manufacturers towards improving the recovery rates of stolen vehicles and one of the main ways this had been achieved was through participation in vehicle marking schemes such as Cesar/ DATATAG. Again, inclusion in these marking and registration schemes was not universal and some regression has taken place in recent years whereby some manufacturers have withdrawn from the scheme. Rather encouragingly, however, some companies such as Suzuki have attempted to incentivise more thorough registration practices among dealers by withholding funds until the process is complete. The need for more stringent registration requirements is an extremely important consideration when attempting to address problems around the recovery of vehicles, and the standardisation of registration procedures which might be mandated at the point of sale, is one means of addressing this.


• Given the inconsistent approach to machine security throughout the plant and agricultural vehicle industry, a full review of areas of the market in which improvements are needed is required. Encouragement towards the standardisation of better security practices needs to take place. However, manufacturers were unanimous about the fact that improvements to machine security do not serve to increase the desirability of vehicles, meaning that there is very little commercial incentive to engage with processes of reform. Therefore, future negotiations need to place emphasis on the corporate social responsibilities of companies in order that material rewards for engagement can be introduced to manufacturers.

• The introduction of standardised and mandatory registration and marking schemes would be of enormous benefit to the identification and recovery of stolen vehicles. Given the current development of technology to assist in the police’s identification of stolen goods, the universal requirement to register machinery would greatly assist in establishing the efficacy of these measures.


• Plant and agricultural machinery and vehicle thefts remain a significant problem across the UK and internationally. Far from being the preserve of low-level criminals, many of these offences are perpetrated by highly organised offenders who travel widely in order to commit thefts. The participation of offenders in wider forms of criminality, and their links to OCG activity, is indicative of the relationship between this form of acquisitive criminality and other forms of more serious crime. When taken into consideration with the significant impacts and harms associated with victimisation, the need to address the business activities of illicit entrepreneurs operating in this area becomes clear.

• Significant barriers to effective policing exist for officers working in this area and many of these issues relate to the inadequacies of data systems, cross-border working and information sharing practices. At the present time, many of these issues are being overcome by the ingenuity, innovation and proactive efforts of particular officers, forces and units, but the institutionalisation of better working practices is something which also needs to be pursued. The establishment of Op OPAL’s ACE team is something which will undoubtedly contribute positively to this and is indicative of the improvements that can be made by collaborative working between police and partner agencies.

• Currently, a complex web of commercial interests stands as an impediment to the meaningful reform of insurance and manufacturing arrangements which have great potential to reduce the number of thefts taking place across the construction and agricultural industries. Through widespread target-hardening and the generation of cultural change among machinery owners, effective partnership working with those from industry is central to finding effective solutions to theft.


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