A business owner has warned others to be on their guard after being targeted by a crime gang who smashed a hole in a workshop wall with a crowbar to steal thousands of pounds worth of equipment.
Police believe the same group may be responsible for a spate of break-ins across the north-east.
The Epic Tree Care firm, at Craigenseat Farm near Keith, was raided in the early hours of the morning by criminals who created a gap in the side of the building about 6ft from the ground.
They clambered up on a large tyre before wedging themselves into the premises and squeezing as many items as they could through the hole.
The value of the stolen equipment – which includes nine chainsaws, a mountain bike, hedge-trimming gear and various power tools – came to £11,500.
We have had a rather bad day. Turns out that today at around 2.30am, we had some unannounced visitors. Going in…
The co-owner of the tree surgeon business last night issued a plea for other companies to “watch out” and make sure their premises are secured.
Elaine Rush, who runs the business with her partner Clive Coney, fears other outfits that are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic could be “killed off” if faced with similar losses.
She said: “It is pretty devastating.
“The company is run by myself, my partner and a small team of guys so we are frustrated as this incident has taken us back a long way.
“Some of the businesses have better security than we have, but they were still raided.
“It is scary to think that if all the businesses get hit the same way we have been, it will set the local area back a fair way and cause massive damage to Moray and Aberdeenshire.
“We are quite lucky as we have kept pretty busy throughout the Covid pandemic but for places that have been quiet, this could kill them off instantly.”
The lumberyard boss hopes releasing a list of the stolen kit on the business’s Facebook page will help to track down some of the items.
Her neighbour, Claire Alldritt, has even launched a fundraising page to help the business recoup some of the losses.
Miss Rush added: “All help with recovering these items is much appreciated.
“Everyone is struggling anyway, and life is not in any way simple.
“It is difficult keeping up a good service and customers happy as well as keeping costs down – especially because of all the extra measures related to Covid-19.
“We are completely overwhelmed at the response so with the outpouring of support and offers of help.”
Miss Rush suggested the crimes may have been committed out of “desperation” as the pandemic has severely impacted on people’s finances.
A police spokeswoman confirmed that the incident at the Moray farm is one of many being probed.
She said : “At about 9.15am on Friday, a report was made about a break-in at a workshop at Craigenseat Farm, Keith, where items had been stolen and inquires are ongoing into the incident.
“We have been looking into a number of break-ins and thefts at rural businesses in Aberdeenshire and Moray – which we believe at this time are linked to this incident.”