A leading Fife farmer has warned that the spate of tractor thefts in the area by organised criminal gangs has the potential to escalate into a “danger to life and limb”.
Stuart Milne from Aberdour, the chairman of NFU Scotland’s West Fife and Kinross branch, has seen three neighbouring farmers lose valuable tractors and other equipment to thieves and says the industry is now concerned not just about large financial losses but the risks of on-farm violence.
“Fife has become the rural crime capital of Scotland and it’s a big worry that a farmer could find someone in the yard at 2-3am – or more likely two or three of them. No farmer is going to let anyone just walk away with a tractor but that confrontation is not going to end well,” he said.
“The financial loss is one thing but we’re now worried about the dangers to life and limb.”
Mr Milne is working closely with Police Scotland and local politicians and has appealed for more resources to help address the problem.
He believes organised criminals are targeting the area with the help of local intelligence.
“Fife has good communications and it’s easy to get on to the motorway before anyone is aware of what has happened,” he said.
“But some of the farms that have been targeted are remote and isolated so we are sure the gangs have someone embedded on the periphery of the farming community who is providing intelligence; and clearly the thieves have international connections because these tractors are never heard of again.”
Mr Milne added that the sustained level of criminality was having a psychological impact on the local farming community.
“For those who have been targeted there’s a feeling of violation and there’s also the huge cost of having to replace stolen tractors. Insurance helps but it doesn’t cover all the costs.”
The most recent theft of three tractors took place when criminals parked an articulated lorry on the old West Fife showground. They stole two tractors from one farm and one from a second unit before loading them on the lorry and driving away.
Mr Milne said: “The latest tractors are all worth at least £80,000 but most can be unlocked by a common key so it makes it easy for the thieves. They can turn up with one set of keys and start them all. Immobilisers can help with security because they require a personal number to be keyed in before the tractor will operate.
“The trouble is that when things get more secure in one area the problem is just displaced somewhere else.”
NFU Scotland’s regional manager, Kate Maitland, advised members in the area to take extra precautions when securing any vehicles, machinery and property, including locking all doors and entrances, making sure all keys to vehicles are locked away and keeping all vehicles and machinery out of obvious sight.
“Prevention is the best tool we have,” she said.
PC Fraser Laird advised Fife farmers who are concerned about security or would like advice on CCTV or alarms to contact him on 01383 318745 for a free crime prevention survey.