ESSENTIAL machinery worth almost £100,000 has been stolen from a Christmas tree farm in what was believed to be a targeted attack by a criminal gang.

Andrew Stenton, owner of Billingley Christmas Tree Farm on Back Lane, believes an organised crime group is to blame for the raid, which saw several large vehicles and specialist equipment stolen in just five minutes at around 11am on Friday.

And despite staff all working within a short distance of the area where the items were stolen from, and CCTV covering all the entrances and exits, Andrew said there was no trace of the thieves.

“Somebody must’ve been watching us,” he said.

“We were all doing something else for that five minutes. They came in a pickup truck and backed into the barn.

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“My wife was in the office and heard a massive bang, but she thought it was us working in the yard.

“It happened so quickly.

“It’s an invasion of our privacy, to think somebody has been watching us and must’ve been planning when we’d all be in certain places.

“It has to be organised crime. We’ve had people on Facebook looking at it, police came within 15 minutes, but the only sighting we got was of them heading towards Doncaster.

“Then it all seems to have disappeared into thin air.

“It was daylight robbery, simple as that.”

Andrew, 44, said the thieves stole a John Deere 6830 tractor - bought second-hand for more than £50,000 - a John Deere Gator vehicle, an Ifor Williams trailer and a sprayer used to spray the trees for pests.

He said the farm is now unable to run properly and, with Christmas less than six months away, it will take a lot of work to ensure it can still deliver in time for the festive period.

But the family firm’s spirits have been lifted by the rush of support offered by local people offering to lend equipment, and those on social media sharing possible sightings.

“We’re working on the farm trying to sort things out, but we can’t work the same way,” said Andrew.

“We’re having to borrow and hire tractors.

“The blowers we spray the trees with are imported from Italy, and we can’t get a new one of those until the end of September because the factory has a shut-down.

“We’ve had a lot of people on social media looking around trying to find things, we’ve had machinery dealers coming in and lending things so we can carry on.

“It’s easy to switch off to these things but people actually care, they’re genuinely interested and trying to help.”

Rural crime in Barnsley’s villages has been a target for local police after a recent spike in incidents, and Andrew believes his isn’t the first farm to be targeted by organised criminals.

“Looking around a lot of farms in the area have been targeted by people who strip them out and send items across to other countries before they can even trace them,” he added.

“It’s rife when you get into it, we’re hearing a lot of stories from other people.

“It seems to be one of those problems that’s going to get bigger.”

A police spokesman confirmed an investigation was currently taking place.

“Police were called at around 11.15am on Friday July 19 following reports of a theft at a farm in Back Lane, Billingley,” said the spokesperson.

“It is understood that persons unknown stole a trailer and vehicles from the farm. Enquiries are ongoing.”