Farmers ready to employ 'vigilantes'

SOME farmers in north Essex have said they may resort to hiring their own security because they feel police are not cracking down hard enough on illegal hare coursers.

SOME farmers in north Essex have said they may resort to hiring their own security because they feel police are not cracking down hard enough on illegal hare coursers.

But they were warned by police if they took such action they could face arrest for aiding and abetting violence.

IainMelrose, 50, of Scotties Farm, Easthorpe, near Colchester, said he was incensed at what he says is a lack of serious attention given to the plight of farmers in rural Essex.

He said he was still haunted after an incident 16 months ago when he was confronted and threatened by a coursers on his property.

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As already reported in the EADT, some landowners feel they have been sidelined and believe urban issues are given a higher priority by police. They have urged senior officers to sanction the use of police helicopters to act as a deterrent when intruders are spotted on their land.

Gangs of illegal coursers frequently target East Anglia, looking for fields where their lurchers and greyhounds can chase hares. The hare coursers often arrive in pairs, armed with a video camera to record the chase and the kill. These images are then played to gamblers, who bet on the outcome.

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One farmer warned desperate measures would soon be taken, including the possibility of shooting hares.

Mr Melrose said he knew of a farmer who would go further. He said: "He's talking seriously about getting these vigilante squads from Liverpool and hiring them to come down here.

"They won't mess about. We know where some of these people live. Some are in the Braintree area and some in Ongar. They just think they are above the law.

"And if the police won't protect us, then we will do it ourselves," the 6ft 4ins farmer added.

"Insp Hayter has spoken to me and to be fair, he was more sympathetic about what we have to put up with. When we've dialled 999 in the past, we're told that our complaints do not warrant an emergency, but the inspector told us to be forceful. We have to tell the operators in Chelmsford that serious damage is being caused to our property and they'll come.

"I think that part of the problem with the police is that they have good staff in the community teams, but they keep getting rotated. As soon as one officer gets to grips with the area and the issues, they're moved on."

Last night, Insp Jon Hayter, of Colchester Police, said while he could not talk about Mr Melrose's case specifically, he insisted the force did take the problems of hare coursing seriously. But he warned farmers against turning to vigilantes for redress.

He said: "In general terms, if anybody does that then they themselves are breaking the law. Even if they are not carrying out the violence themselves they are aiding and abetting it and therefore liable for arrest.

"Hare coursing is an issue and it is an offence which we do take seriously and we are aware of the farmers' views."

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