The use of local “spotters” is widespread among criminal gangs targeting farmyards for valuable equipment and machinery, a specialist detective has said.

And international gangs stealing high-value machinery like tractors often use bank holiday weekends to transport the items to major ports and export them as quickly as possible.

Detective Garda Eugene O’Sullivan, attached to the Stolen Vehicle Unit, was speaking at the launch of the Farm Theft prevention initiative, held by Crimestoppers, the gardaí, the Irish Farmers Association, and DoneDeal.

The launch heard almost 29,000 farm-related crime incidents had been reported to gardaí since 2010.

Det O’Sullivan said the use of local spotters was “widespread” in farm thefts, as it was in the robbery of other businesses, such as garages and warehouses.

“People are always on the lookout and willing to sell on information to someone else to go ahead and steal whatever is on offer,” he said.

Athy, Co Kildare farmer Liam Dunne told the launch he knew who the spotters were in the robbery of his farmyard. “They can’t be prosecuted for selling information,” he said.

Det O’Sullivan said you had to link spotters to the actual crime and “a number of proofs” were required. He said it was usually people who handled stolen property who were prosecuted.

He said more expensive machinery, such as tractors, were often shipped abroad, with items located “as far away as Australia”.

He said the most common items being stolen were trailers, quads, power tools, diesel, spray, farm machinery, and tractors. He urged people to mark their property and keep records.

IFA president Joe Healy said criminals often followed diesel trucks to farmyards and emptied loaded tanks.

He said the “mental stress” was far more severe than the financial loss.

Crimestoppers chairman Tim Dalton urged people to report suspicious activity, to mark and photograph their equipment and not to personally tackle intruders.; Crimestoppers 1800 25 00 25.

‘It’s about an invasion of your privacy’

- Cormac O’Keeffe

Co Laois farmer Robin Talbot
Co Laois farmer Robin Talbot

For Co Laois farmer Robin Talbot it was the “invasion” of his private space that was the worst part of the robbery on June 23 last.

When he woke up early that morning he saw the gate to his farm was open and knew something was up. And when he checked his workshop he immediately saw his jeep was gone.

However, the raiders seemed to have a “shopping list” of what they wanted from his Ballacolla workshop.

“I noticed the chainsaw and the handheld hedge trimmer missing, but items of equal value — like angle-grinders — were thrown on the ground.”

After the gardaí from Abbeyleix arrived he also discovered another gate, a road gate that was sealed up, had been broken open.

He saw a track straight down a field from the road gate to the farm gate.

“They had their research done,” he said. He said the jeep was recovered after it was used to ram a Garda car.

He said insurances were sorted out, but that a “lingering” feeling remained: That somebody had been in their yard, “invading” their private space.

He said he did not take a chance in the following weeks to check on their cows, which were calving, late at night to see if they were OK.

He said it was only in the last few weeks, after putting up extra lights, that he feels safe to do so.

“My eldest daughter, who’s 12, she’s big into farming and out with me late at night. I’ve not passed any remark, but always in the back of my mind [is the thought] ‘is there someone watching’ and that’s a horrible feeling.

“It’s about more than pounds, shillings and pence: It’s about an invasion of your privacy, an invasion of your space.”

He urged people, including other farmers, to go to reputable dealers when buying equipment.

The trauma of having farmyard ‘violated’

- Cormac O’Keeffe

Liam Dunne
Liam Dunne

Liam Dunne had put in a range of security measures on his farm in Athy, Co Kildare, after he spotted suspicious car tracks.

But it didn’t stop the robbery on June 27 last.

“We knew something was going on. A vehicle had come in around the farmyard. We saw the tracks.

“We tightened up security a lot, double locks on gates, concrete blocks and all vehicles at night are secured into buildings with roller doors and the power switched off.”

But one morning, he woke to see one of the roller doors had been opened.

His jeep was gone, although not his Ifor Williams trailer, which he suspected was too big to fit through the gate that they had used to access the farm.

He said the raiders were “selective and careful”, taking batteries for drills and cases for welders, to enable them to sell them as complete sets.

He said his jeep was used in three other break-ins that same night and also used to ram electric gates.

Mr Dunne said it was found a week later in Portlaoise written off.

“The jeeps are used for robberies,” he said. “It’s the tools they’re after, that’s where they make their money.”

He said the biggest impact of the robbery was “the break in your sense of security”, pointing out that a farmyard was “an expression” of the farmer.

“To have that violated is quite traumatic,” he said.

He said for weeks after, his family were calling down to him at night telling him they could hear something outside.

“I go out, take something in my hand. Then they would be worried.”

Gardaí told him there were five raiders on his farm: Four doing the robbery and a fifth as a look out — and that he would not have seen him in the dark.


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