29 January 1999

Taking secure steps

beats thieves

Theft from farms is all too

common, but many of the

security precautions which

discourage thieves are not

expensive – and some are

even free of charge.

Mike Williams reports

THE cost of farm thefts peaked at just over £100m in 1996. Since then there have been signs of a downturn, but there is still clearly plenty of scope for further progress in the war against rural theft.

Stealing is a risky occupation made even more hazardous by just a modest investment in security equipment – which, after all, is the intention. But some security precautions cost time and trouble as well as cash, and simply being security conscious can be a highly-effective way of foiling thieves.

Tools are high on the theft list – electric drills and chainsaws occupy first and second places in the NFU Mutuals top 10 list of the items most frequently stolen from farms. Carelessness is often a factor in the theft of tools, which are usually stolen by opportunists who find them lying around while the owner is taking a lunch break or because they were not put away securely after the job was finished.

Some stolen tools, such as bolt cutters and screwdrivers, could make it easier for a thief to break into locked buildings and being careless with ladders is another way to help thieves to help themselves to your property. Ladders, like tools, should be locked away securely when not in use.

Carelessness also increases the risk of vehicle theft. Failure to lock shed doors when there is nobody nearby to watch out for intruders, or even leaving a vehicle unattended with the key in the ignition provides thieves with an invitation they rarely turn down.

"Its largely a matter of good housekeeping," says Richard Miles, security specialist for the NFU Mutual. "Not leaving things lying around and keeping doors locked can play an important part in theft reduction, and if the amount of theft comes down, the cost of insur- ance premiums will also be lower."

Halogen security lights with sensors triggered by movement are an effective deterrent for unwelcome visitors, according to security experts. They are cheap enough to be used generously, guarding obvious access routes to the house and buildings, and flooding intruders with high-intensity light. Some can also be linked to an audible warning inside the house, which will wake the occupants when the light is triggered.

Security lights can be put out of action by smashing the glass and the bulb. To reduce the risk of deliberate damage many of the lights currently available have toughened glass, and some are protected by wire mesh, but they should always be mounted where they are difficult to reach.

Another potential problem with such equipment is swaying bushes or tree branches which can trigger the sensor on a windy night. The field of vision covered by each sensor should be adjusted to avoid this risk.

Security light systems with a 500 watt rating and a 12m (40ft) detection radius are available from about £15 upwards, and installation can be a do-it-yourself job.

Padlocks should be an important part of the farms defence system, but make sure they are tough enough to resist a determined attack. Choose a reputable make such as Chubb, Legge or Yale and expect to pay £30-£50 for a lock which will be an effective deterrent. Investing in a good-quality padlock is a waste of money if the fastener it works with is flimsy. Consider buying a new bolt or latch at the same time.

Thieves also target farm offices because they often contain expensive equipment such as fax machines and computers. For this application security experts recommend a 5-lever deadlock for the door. Choose a British Standard 3621 design and expect to pay £20 plus.

Windows in the farm office should also be secured. Yale bolt fasteners for sash windows cost about £13.50p for a pack of six, and a six screw type fasteners for window stays are £10-£12.

An unfriendly guard dog can also keep thieves away. The risk of attack is enough to discourage even a determined criminal, but there is also a risk that innocent visitors could be bitten if the dog is not kept on a chain.

"Dogs can be effective, even if they are not allowed to run loose," says Mr Miles. "The barking is all you need to keep people away – and security is all about deterrence."

There is no complete defence against theft but a good security system will usually persuade unwelcome visitors to move away to an easier target. And if they are not deterred, good-quality door locks and padlocks will at least delay the thieves – buying time is important.

Apart from the satisfaction of making life more difficult for the thieves, there is also a bonus in the form of premium reductions for farmers with a security system which is fully approved by insurance companies. &#42