Rural crime crackdown hailed a success

A crackdown on rural crime which has seen police forge a new partnership with senior members of Norfolk’s agricultural community has been hailed a huge success almost year after it was launched.

Operation Randall started in December with a high-profile day of action on the Norfolk-Cambridgeshire border with roadside checks used to identify travelling criminals using the main routes into the county.

It was part of an operation which encouraged farmers and landowners to work with police to help identify, disrupt and deter criminals targeting the Norfolk countryside – making rural areas safer for all who work and live there.

And while there might have been a degree of initial scepticism from the farming community about the initiative the results over the past 11 months speak for themselves.

Intelligence reports to police increased from 34 to just short of 180 since the operation began.

The intelligence has enabled police to link 86 people across the network of criminals connected with Operation Randall and in terms of linked vehicles used by these people, 100 have been linked analytically.

Since the operation started 75 arrests have been made under the banner Operation Randall.

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The Farm Watch scheme, the National Farmers’ Union, Norfolk hunts and leading Norwich-based agricultural engineers Ben Burgess have all teamed up with Norfolk police to help make the campaign the success it is today.

Det Supt Nick Dean, who has led Operation Randall, said: “The operation had several aims, not least to increase the information flow in to the constabulary.

“We have seen that information come in and I hope the public can see that we have acted upon it to conduct operations on those who cause most harm to the rural communities of Norfolk.

“There have been significant successes and the operation will continue. I would like to thank partner agencies for their commitment to Operation Randall and to the public for their continuing support. We need to build on this base and explore other ways of tackling and preventing rural crime.”

Operation Randall has focused on crimes ranging from the theft of large farm machinery to fuel and heating oil thefts and wildlife crime.

By working with other agencies, such as the Environment Agency and Trading Standards, those breaking the law could still face action even if the police cannot bring a criminal prosecution.

Ben Burgess, a Norwich-based agricultural machinery dealer, has been one of the police’s main agricultural partners in driving Operation Randall forward.

Ben Turner, managing director, said the company “very much supports” the operation and had become increasingly security aware since it had two new tractors stolen from its Dereham depot about three years ago.

He said: “We’ve been involved in it from the very beginning. Operation Randall has been a great success – we’re very pleased with it. We’re very pleased to be on board.

“It gave an opportunity for police to put it into a box. Information is being fed into the police and they can look at it. It’s working very well.”

Mr Turner said the multi-agency roadside checks had been particularly successful in targeting and disrupting rural crime as well as other types of crime.

But he urged members of the rural community to continue feeding information to police in order for its success to continue.

Mr Turner added: “People in the country feel when there’s something strange, they sense it – notice a strange vehicle in a layby and we want them to be taking the registration down and passing that information on.”

Brian Finnerty, a spokesman for the East Anglian region of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said it had welcomed the initiative and hoped it would continue to be a success.

“We certainly welcome the efforts they have been making. Rural crime is still out there and still a problem, but it’s good to see them taking the initiative.

“Rural crime is now being seen as more of an issue by police which is really good to see. We just need to ensure that the resources are put in place to combat it.”

But despite the success of the campaign to date, Mr Finnerty said there were still areas that needed to be improved upon.

“I think one of the areas we do still want to see progress is on cross- border issues between Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

“Criminals don’t respect borders and often take advantage of the fact there’s different police forces in different areas.”

The operation has also had the support of other rural organisations like Farmwatch Ltd. One of the first schemes in the country was set up in the Downham Market area of West Norfolk in 1987 because of the high incidence of rural crime and the perceived need to do more to assist the police to combat it.

In 1994 Tony Bone, a retired Norfolk police officer, took over the administration of the scheme which he now co-ordinates from Wramplingham, near Norwich.

Mr Bone said: “As far as I’m concerned it’s [Operation Randall] gone excellently. The results speak for themselves. The information we’ve been getting in has been good and the more results come in the more information we seem to get.

“We’re very encouraged by the way the police have gone about it in using the information that’s out there and available. It’s really made a difference,” he added

The launch of Operation Randall followed consultation by senior police officers with farming groups across the county.

They agreed that improved communication between police and farming communities would help provide a more responsive police service.

Farmers have been encouraged to report incidents to police to help build intelligence on people or vehicles linked to rural crime and can sign up to receive crime updates by e-mail, voicemail or text via Norfolk police’s free Police Direct system.

The EDP is backing the operation with its own Farm Alert campaign, encouraging communities to support the police by reporting suspicious activity. Report crimes or suspicious activity by phoning 101 and quoting ‘Operation Randall’. Always telephone 999 in an emergency.