Two men who were found with 20 pieces of stolen farm machinery and plant were sentenced last week.
Harry Hollowell, aged 25 of Jellicoe Road in Yeovil, and 23-year-old Vincent Bruce, of Bearley Lane, Tintinhull, appeared at Bristol Crown Court on Friday 22 December after pleading guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods.
On Friday 16 October 2020, officers from the Operation Remedy team – who specialise in dealing with burglaries and crime series – carried a stolen goods search warrant at a farm in South Barrow, near Sparkford.
Here they discovered and seized 20 stolen machines, with further machines since recovered throughout the investigation.
Hollowell and Bruce had been purchasing farm machinery stolen from farm burglaries in the Sedgemoor area of West Somerset throughout 2020.
They also bought and sold stolen plant machinery which had been taken from building sites in the Cardiff area in 2020.
All of which caused significant financial losses to many farmers, landowners and small businesses.
Hollowell was sentenced to three years and 2 months imprisonment and Bruce for one year and four months. Bruce had his sentence suspended for two years.
In sentencing, HHJ McMillan said Hollowell had ‘played the leading role in a professional and sophisticated enterprise’ and he had profited from the loss and stress of people who were ‘almost like neighbours’.
A third man, 43-year-old Piotr Szor from Reading, was also sentenced at the same time as Hollowell and Bruce after pleading guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods for an unrelated incident.
The court heard how in October 2020, a tractor and telehandler worth around £80,000 were stolen from a farm burglary in East Somerset.
Szor had organised for the machinery to be loaded onto a lorry bound for Poland.
However, officers intercepted the lorry, recovered the machinery, and arrested Szor for his involvement.
Szor was sentenced to one year imprisonment, suspended for two years.
Speaking following the sentence, Det Supt James Raphael said: “The theft of plant and agricultural machinery and tools have a detrimental impact on the farming community who work tirelessly to provide for our communities.
“The needless acts of Hollowell, Bruce and Szor has cost the victims hundreds of thousands of pounds in both materials and time.
“We are dedicated to supporting our rural communities and this case is a great example of the work carried out by our Operation Remedy and Rural Affairs Unit, working in collaboration with our vehicle examiners.
“We hope it is reassuring to people in the rural community that action is being taken against criminals who steal the livelihoods of others.”
Unfortunately, the theft of agriculture plant and machinery is an ever-growing issue across the UK.
Items are hugely expensive and easy to sell for profit and often targeted by organised criminal groups.
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford said: “This case serves as a stern reminder of the scale of rural crime, which is why as Police and Crime Commissioner, combating rural crime is one of my top priorities.
“These criminal activities have financial, time, and emotional impacts on the farming community who work tirelessly to provide for our communities.
“I applaud the work done by Operation Remedy team in bringing these prolific offenders to justice and I encourage anyone affected by farm machinery theft to report it to the police.”
We urge anyone with equipment to get them marked, securely stored, and have CCTV installed in areas where tools and machinery is stored.
If you see any suspicious behaviour around your rural community, especially in areas with farms and agricultural land, please reach out to our Rural Affairs Unit or contact us via 101 (non-emergency number) or 999 (in an emergency when there is a risk to life).