‘Organised gang stripped my Defender with military precision while I slept’

NFU Mutual claims data has revealed that organised thieves continue to target Land Rover Defenders
NFU Mutual claims data has revealed that organised thieves continue to target Land Rover Defenders

Farmers who own Land Rover Defenders are being urged to take action to safeguard their iconic vehicles, after figures show £2.4m worth were stolen in 2022.

Defender owners should adopt a combination of traditional and technological security measure, according to NFU Mutual, who published the figures.

Though a slight drop from 2021, the claims data reveals that organised thieves continue to target the countryside icons.

Indications from this year’s claims data suggest that the cost of Defender theft is set to increase again in 2023.

As well as stealing vehicles, NFU Mutual said it frequently receives reports that Land Rover Defenders are being stripped for their valuable parts.

Police working on recovery have traced vehicles as far afield as Africa and Eastern Europe, and found several ‘chop shops’ - fields full of half-dismantled Defenders whose parts are being sold on the illicit market.

With the enduring appeal of the vehicles to thieves showing no signs of wavering, NFU Mutual is sharing advice on how farmers and other Defender owners can protect their cars.

Andrew Chalk, car insurance specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “We’ve been insuring Defenders since they first rolled onto British farms, and sadly we’ve seen a significant spike in thefts in recent years.

“Defenders have wide and enduring appeal, both as a trusty workhorse and an icon of British motoring, making them coveted collectors’ pieces.

"Unfortunately, this also means that their value and the value of their parts remains high, making them a repeat target for thieves after whole vehicles or individual parts."

In April last year, farmer Michael Skinner awoke to find that his Defender Utility 110, parked 20 metres away from where he slept in the house, had been silently stripped of its parts overnight.

Avoiding security lights and alarms and remaining quiet enough to avoid waking Michael or any of his five dogs, the thieves stripped the Defender and another in a neighbouring farm, almost a mile down the road, in under an hour.

He said: “They knew exactly what they were looking for and struck with military precision. We have two locked gates to the property and they didn’t try these.

"They entered through a busy main road, neatly cutting through a wire netting fence and some barbed wire to bring their vehicle through to the yard.

“When they got to the Defender they seemed to know exactly where to stand to avoid triggering the alarms or lights and stripped it so quietly that even my dogs didn’t hear them. They took off with the bonnet, boot and doors and removed the windscreen.

“We found the bolts neatly laid out so they clearly knew what they were doing, and we later discovered they did the same thing a few minutes later in one of our neighbouring farms, and stole a pickup to do the job."

Mr Skinner added: “As I said, they did it with military precision and it was clearly an organised raid. It’s worrying to think they’d scouted out the farm before from the road or by drones.

“It really is an impossible scenario. Initially you’re gutted and feel you must have been silly and left an easy target, but then you realise that this is an organised gang that have planned a raid and know exactly what they are doing.

“There was no sign of the parts but then I suspect the thieves have a market for the parts they steal.”

After receiving his insurance payment for the theft, Michael decided to replace his Defender with a pickup.

“It’s a shame because it was a nice classic style Defender in really good nick, but then that’s why it was targeted," he said.

“It’s a worrying thought that they were so organised in breaking into the farm, as it means they could come and fetch anything again.”