Combating farm kit crime on UK shores

If you have ever had a tractor stolen from your farm, the chances are by the time you even notice it has gone, it is halfway on its journey out of the UK.

Thefts of tractors and farm machinery have soared in recent years as the trend of “stealing to order” has grown.

And while some kit does stay in the UK, the majority of it is quickly disguised, transported to one of the several ports around the country, loaded onto a boat and shipped off to a waiting customer abroad.

It is a trend that has become so pronounced that police forces across the country are joining with vehicle crime and border patrol experts to find ways to tackle thieves and would-be exporters.

“We as the police are concerned, because in times of austerity everyone suffers if machinery gets stolen,” says detective sergeant Laurie McIntyre, who along with his team from Humberside police have come to Immingham docks in Hull for training in how to spot stolen tractors.

“Even second-hand, some of these can be worth £40,000-50,000. The loss to farmers and insurance companies damages the country.”

DS McIntyre and his team work with the UK Border Agency to police the docks at Immingham, as well as the airport at Hull.

But when he spoke to colleagues who work in the Association of Chief Police Officers Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (AVIS), he realised his team was potentially missing an opportunity to stop even more stolen machinery from leaving the UK.

“As port officers we look at items going into countries all over the world, but we didn’t know where to look for serial numbers on things like tractors and plant kit because we’d never really come across it before,” he says.

“We asked a team from AVCIS to come to Immingham so we can learn what to look for and when things don’t look right.”


Immingham docks is a huge port, with hundreds of thousands of lorries, trucks and cars lined up waiting to be loaded onto one of the hundreds of ships that stops off there every week on their way to the rest of Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.

 Rural vehicle crime

If you have ever had a tractor stolen from your farm, the chances are by the time you even notice it has gone, it is halfway on its journey out of the UK.

DS McIntyre admits it is easy to hide stolen goods in ports like this, especially where there are countless shipping containers that can be delivered, loaded and shipped before they can even be checked.

But it is a challenge that he and his team are determined to take on and he hopes training days like this will help Humberside police reunite more farmers with their stolen tractors.

“It’s a major concern that we are close to major farming areas in Norfolk and Lincolnshire,” he says. “Machines can be taken overnight and brought up here to the port within hours with their identification plates changed and having had a repaint.

“But by being trained in identifying kit we have more chance of spotting when something looks suspicious and getting it investigated.

“This is not a crime we think is minor – it’s substantial and we are taking it very seriously as a force.”

AVCIS vehicle examiner detective constable Nick Shrubshall, who regularly investigates shipments at Felixtowe docks in Suffolk, says concern about the increase in farm machinery thefts is something all forces are keen to tackle.

“AVCIS is based in Coventry but I can be sent all over the country to look at shipments,” he says. “All forces feed their intelligence to us, so as soon as farm machinery is stolen we can get notifications.

“It keeps people in the loop as to what’s been stolen and what’s on the move and it allows me to look for specific things that are leaving the countries from ports.”

DC Shrubshall says while some kit is sent directly to Europe, there is a growing export market to Africa. “The African market is huge because once it reaches there it can be distributed all over. But there’s so much trade and from Felixtowe in particular the containers can go all over the world.

“It’s a big job, but we hope by giving training to other ports and helping to show officers what to look for we can really help tackle this.”

Farmers welcome

Rural Crime bannerThe Association of Chief Police Officers is keen to see farmers and industry officials at its inaugural conference. Visit for details.

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