The chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary has warned that the cost of living crisis is creating “real live threats” of crime in rural communities, linking the economy to a recent spike in farm thefts.

Chief Constable Paul Sanford told this newspaper the economic environment would make valuable possessions like plant machinery “more attractive to some people” and advised farmers to remove hi-tech equipment from vehicles wherever possible.

He told people concerned about the theft of equipment to: “Lock it up, secure it as best you can, keep it out of sight.”

It comes after the disappearance of 13 GPS systems, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in sum, from five Norfolk farms in a span of just seven days in late November.

The UK economy is predicted to go into recession next year, and inflation has hovered around 10pc for the last several months, with prices of energy and food causing enormous pressure on household budgets and driving more people to rely on foodbanks.

Eastern Daily Press: Mr Sanford warned farmers to remove expensive high-tech equipment from farm machinery wherever possibleMr Sanford warned farmers to remove expensive high-tech equipment from farm machinery wherever possible (Image: Archant)

In a wide-ranging interview, further extracts from which will appear in coming days, we asked the chief constable whether he was happy with the way Norfolk Police were preventing and investigating rural crime.

He said: “We put a considerable amount of resource into it. It’s a rural county and I know it’s important to huge swathes of people who live in this area.

“I think our dedicated rural crime teams do a very good job. We look at surveys such as the NFU Mutual cost of rural crime and we see we’ve performed very well there, we think that’s a good proxy measure of what we’re doing.

“Every now and again we do get sprees of offences, and I think the current economic environment is only going to make some of those rural crime commodities - plant machinery for example - even more attractive to some people, so there are some real live threats out there.

“But in general I think we’re doing a good job trying to tackle this threat.”

NFU Mutual are rural insurance specialists who compile claims made each year to report on the social and economic impact of rural crime.

They found losses nationwide dropped 9.3pc in 2021, but warned first quarter losses in 2022 were 40% higher than in 2021. The Eastern region of the UK registered rural crime losses of £5.1m in 2021, a 22.4pc fall.

Norfolk does not appear in this year’s list of the 10 worst-affected counties. Lincolnshire tops the list with £2.4m of losses reported to the insurer, Suffolk is fifth with £1.2m.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk Chief Constable Paul SanfordNorfolk Chief Constable Paul Sanford (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)

Mr Sanford said his force attends every burglary in person, except in exceptional circumstances for instance if the victim is suffering from Covid, but said for other acquisite crimes, such as the theft of a vehicle from a driveway, “it depends on the circumstances”.

Asked what people could do to protect their belongings, he said: “Rural crime takes many forms, but if we talk about the acquisitive element of that, it’s often high value expensive farm machinery, and the advice is ever so straightforward: please lock it up, secure it as best you can, keep it out of sight.

“Of course it’s sometimes difficult for farmers given this is heavy slow-moving machinery, it’s not always easy or convenient to move it.

“But there’s some basic crime prevention advice like keeping things locked away, out of sight, and certainly removing where you can the expensive technology that sometimes is attached to fairly old-tech machinery.”

Eastern Daily Press: High tech GPS equipment is used by farmers to improve and automate elements of their businessHigh tech GPS equipment is used by farmers to improve and automate elements of their business (Image: nq)

On November 24, thieves stole a GPS monitor from a tractor in Great Ellingham, and in Marsham a GPS dome receiver and screens were stolen from two tractors between November 23 and 28.

On November 28 GPS domes, screens and an iPad were stolen overnight from tractors and crop sprayers in Wroxham. High tech equipment also disappeared from a property in Salhouse on the same night, and from a Frettenham farm around the same time.

The technology is used to help with precision crop management.

Reducing agricultural crime is one of the areas Police and Crime Commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie said he was making a top priority in his crime plan, alongside more visible policing and tackling domestic abuse.