30 August 2002

SASto guard countryside…

By Donald MacPhail

FORMER SAS soldiers are standing by to guard farms amid fears that thieves will target rural properties during next months Liberty and Livelihood March.

At least 300,000 protesters are expected to descend on London on Sept 22 to demand the preservation of traditional rural life, including the right to hunt with hounds. But with whole villages being bussed off to the March, swathes of the countryside could be left almost empty.

David Barnard, a parish councillor at Upwell, Norfolk, said he believed criminals could take advantage of the event to target homes. "There could be an increased threat if a lot of people are away from an area. There are groups of people roaming around the countryside and they are not short of intelligence."

Concern over a lack of rural policing has prompted private security firms to step into the breach. Olive Security, which is managed by former members of the SAS, is offering highly-trained ex-special forces personnel to farmers and landowners who want to guard their land.

Marketing director Harry Legge-Bourke said: "Everyone knows that country is going to the city that day. If our men can cope with 18 years in the SAS, they can certainly cope with one day on a farm."

Rural police forces said they had no plans to increase their presence on the March day. But officers would include properties in patrols if asked by concerned residents. A spokesman for Cumbria police said: "If someone says their property will be empty and asks us to look out for it, we would be foolish not to do so."

But some experts said claims that opportunist thieves would invade the countryside were little more than scaremongering. Devon and Cornwall police said 11 break-ins were recorded on the date of the last Countryside Alliance March on Mar 1, 1998, almost half the total of 21 on the equivalent Sunday in 1999.

NFU Mutual, which insures two-thirds of farmers, said there was no increase in claims after the last Alliance March. Risk manager Carl Coulter said: "People going away for the day should not be unduly concerned. Longer-term unoccupancy, such as going away on holiday, is more of a problem."

Nevertheless, Mr Coulter advised farmers going on the March to take common sense measures to discourage thieves. "Farmers should think from the opportunist thiefs point of view and make stealing as difficult, time consuming and noisy as possible, and not leave around any tools that could help them."

&#8226 For more on the March, see page 13. &#42