Farming communities to be protected as police forces partner up

Police forces across south-east England have banded together to form a new partnership to protect rural communities in the most isolated locations.  

The newly formed South East Partnership Against Rural Crime (Separc) comprises the Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Thames Valley police forces, with an emphasis on sharing intelligence to stop cross-border criminals and make the region more hostile for rural offenders.

Last week, to launch the new partnership, rural crime officers from the joint forces turned their efforts to targeting suspicious vehicles related to agricultural crimes travelling on the A34 in Berkshire.

See also: Cost of rural crime up £9m, as gangs target farms

This involved stopping trailers, ATVs, UTVs, agricultural plant and machinery, so intercepting stolen items before they are moved south to the docks at Dover and Portsmouth.

Thames Valley Police (TVP) rural crime taskforce inspector Stuart Hutchings explains: “We’ve all come together – the PCCs, the chief constables, all the rural crime teams – and the aim this week has been to target all types of rural crime.

“We’re looking at plant and farm machinery. We know that our major arterial routes are being used to get down to the docks in Portsmouth and Dover. 

“TVP is landlocked, but we know that criminals have to come through us – via the M40 and the A34 – so that’s why our focus here is to stop cross-border criminals.”

Agricultural thefts

A vital objective of Separc is to protect rural communities by stopping thefts and preventing stolen items from moving around the country.

The second-hand market for agricultural equipment is becoming increasingly valuable, and TVP has recovered just under £5m in agricultural plant and farm machinery since its rural taskforce was established.

“Yesterday, we recovered a trailer that was stolen 11 years ago from Dorset, and the aggrieved had never claimed on their insurance, so they came and collected it,” said Insp Hutchings.

“That’s great, but it shows that plant and farm machinery is being stolen and moved all over the country. We know that there are GPS systems that have been stolen in Thames Valley and are now in America.

“We recently stopped a load of generators going to Ukraine and Eastern Europe – there’s a worldwide market and things are being stolen and moved hundreds of miles overnight.”

Livestock worrying

Insp Hutchings says that quad bike and ATV theft are always an issue, and are high on the list of items commonly stolen from farms.

Police inspector in front of police van

Insp Stuart Hutchings © MAG/Matilda Bovingdon

“But, my concern for the next month or so is livestock worrying. We’re moving into spring – the lambing season,” he says.

“Every year, around March and April, we see a spike in livestock worrying.

“Earlier this week, we charged someone with a dangerous dog that was involved in an attack on animals on a farm, so that is our concern at the moment.”

One of the resources available to the rural crime team are drones, which can be used for searching fields and accessing difficult areas.

Some have thermal imaging and search lights, can read a number plate from about 600m away, and can be set to lock-on and track vehicles.

They have been particularly effective in cracking down on hare coursing. 

Advice to farmers

When it comes to tackling rural crime, police and farming communities need to work collaboratively. Inspector Hutchings makes three requests of farmers:

  1. Make a record of all property details. Record the make, model, colour, and serial number. “Etch your name and postcode into the mudguard, forensically mark it, and take some photos,” he says. “All of this information can then be uploaded onto the police national computer, so that, if it is spot checked, the details are there forever and we can try and get it back.”
  2. Report crime. “The rural community consists of really nice people, and when a crime is happening, we need them to phone 999 and tell us so we can get there, arrest people, and launch an investigation. With Separcs, we are sharing each others’ intelligence so we can build a true picture of crime.”
  3. Check your security. “Are your cameras working, are they covered in cobwebs, can you download data correctly, are they out of date?” asks Insp Hutchings. “Can you put a sensor camera in? Have you got forensic marking, immobilisers, or trackers? There’s a lot of things that can be done that aren’t very expensive.”
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