Two men sentenced to prison after stealing 20 pieces of farm machinery

The theft of agricultural machinery has a detrimental impact on the farming community
The theft of agricultural machinery has a detrimental impact on the farming community

Two men who were found with 20 pieces of stolen farm machinery have been sentenced to prison amid growing concern over thefts in rural areas.

Harry Hollowell, 25 and Vincent Bruce, 23, appeared at Bristol Crown Court just before Christmas Day after pleading guilty to conspiracy to handle stolen goods.

In October 2020, Somerset Police's Operation Remedy team – who specialise in dealing with rural burglaries – carried a stolen goods search warrant at a farm near Sparkford.

They discovered and seized 20 stolen machines, with further machines since recovered throughout the investigation.

The court heard that Hollowell and Bruce had been purchasing agricultural 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, Bristol Crown Court heard.

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, the judge 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, Piotr Szor, 43, 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 him for his involvement.

Szor was sentenced to one year imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Speaking following the sentence, Det Supt James Raphael said: “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.”

Figures show that the cost of rural theft in the UK shot up by nearly a quarter last year as highly organised gangs of criminals continued to plague the countryside.

The UK cost of GPS theft increased by 15% to £1.8m in 2022, while quad and ATV theft cost £3 million, a 34% rise on the previous year.

The NFU said the huge increase in criminal activity was significantly impacting farm businesses.

The union's vice president, David Exwood said: “Over the past 18 months highly organised gangs of criminals have continued to plague the British countryside.

“The huge increase we’ve seen in criminal activity is significantly impacting farm businesses and farming families both financially and emotionally, with many rural communities left feeling vulnerable and intimidated."