Farming opinion: Farmers are too trusting by nature, says Rosemary Padfield

Ongar farmer ROSEMARY PADFIELD, who leads on rural crime for the National Farmers’ Union in Essex, last year addressed the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) conference in Northampton on the issue. Here she explains how taking an active role can reduce the problem.

I THINK as farmers we have in the past been far too trusting by nature and never questioned locking sheds or securing fuel tanks, let alone hiding a tractor key.

A recent report has shown that more than a third of farms in East Anglia seem to have fallen victim to crime in the last year with many going unreported show many have still a lesson to learn.

However in Essex we are trying to buck this statistic by establishing email families around the county between farmers and local police. On seeing a suspicious vehicle or person, details are very swiftly sent out throughout the county so other farmers can be vigilant.

Once a vehicle registration number is on the police system they have grounds to stop it when next seen by a patrol vehicle. We have had great success stories which are fed back to those on the email system to show the benefit of reporting everything suspicious. When we first started this system it took two or three reports of the same vehicle before action happened. Now only one report is needed as the police have found this a reliable approach to apprehending criminals. Many prosecutions have occurred as a result.

In many areas we have taken this a stage further by regularly meeting with farmers, police and representatives of local district councils by forming Neighbourhood Action Panels. Normally these cover a specific village or town but in our case they mirror a policing area so cover many miles as we all have similar issues. Initially there was a major lack of trust in the policing system as a whole.

We discovered very early on that many crimes were unreported as there was a general malaise of not feeling it worthwhile. But we have shown the benefit of reporting all crimes and cases of fly tipping, so accurate figures are presented to the police. This has helped them to find resources despite their stringent financial cutbacks to ensure we have the level of on the ground policing necessary to reflect the now accurate picture of rural crime.

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The feeling of apathy over lack of police responding to incidents went very quickly as now we have a platform to question things, should a farmer feel dissatisfied at an incident not being taken seriously (and I am happy to say it has not occurred since we started the first one in my area four years ago). We have joined the police on some night patrols to show them the back routes across fields and tracks our unwelcome visitors knew of. We have made them aware what we mean by hare coursing and poaching so when we phone in an incident they are aware that firearms are usually involved so act swiftly. In return, we have found areas on our land for the police dogs and horses to train.

By including the district council in our meetings we have been able to work with them on fly tipping issues – always a major concern in rural areas. Firstly we found neither they nor the police knew the full extent of the problem – they do now!

In my area we had several problems from local travellers’ sites which again caused concern and distrust amongst farmers as they felt the police were often unwilling to ‘enter and search’ sites for missing items. We have confidence now that sites are frequently visited and monitored.

We have worked together to produce leaflets, for example on how to report incidents and how to protect oneself when walking one’s own land with a firearm if you come across an unwelcome trespasser. The police have produced a Rural Patrol Companion so every rural officer is fully aware of rural issues. Recently, a Crime Prevention Day was held where manufacturers and other agencies came to a local farm to see how they, farmers and the police could work closer together to further combat rural crime.

To date, this joint partnership has proved a success - the more we talk and work in tandem the better it is, and all sides are aware of each other’s issues. As farmers we have leant to far more vigilant and less trusting and above all report everything as, after all, that gut feeling something is not right is usually right......

We have found the joint approach of working locally as the eyes and ears of the police has been tremendously successful and has become a vital platform for helping reduce rural crime. To lose a tractor is the midst of harvest is devastating but we can help minimise this risk by being more vigilant, and securing sheds and fuel tanks.