‘Brazen’ gangs increase rural crime bringing ‘high anxiety’ to countryside communities
Farmers in Suffolk and Essex are having to fortify their land to defend against soaring levels of rural crime.
Insurers, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Mutual claims rural crime cost £1.2m in Suffolk last year, up 27% on 2016; while in Essex it increased 10% to £1.8m – the fourth highest figure of any county in the UK.
The figures taken from NFU Mutual’s annual Rural Crime Report, published today, highlight a growing problem across the UK.
In Suffolk, which has one of the UK’s few dedicated rural police teams, officers say organised gangs are seeking out high value tools to sell on the black market.
Sergeant Brian Calver, who heads up the team, said: “There’s no doubt about it, these are organised criminals. They’re working in groups, there’s no way they could do it alone.”
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Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said preventing rural crime is “always going to be a priority” for Suffolk, highlighting the new Rural Policing Strategy,.
“The strategy details the prevention, intelligence, enforcement and reassurance measures we will take to reduce crime, and the specialist resources that are being used to tackle it,” he added. “I am pleased to say there have been some notable successes and prosecutions during the last year.”
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James Batchelor-Wylam, NFU Mutual’s senior agent in Suffolk, said criminals were “more brazen” meaning farmers had to continually increase security.
The report reveals farmers are building earth banks, ditches, stockade fences and high-security access points to fortify their land against criminals in 4x4 vehicles.
It also claims limited police resources and repeat attacks are the biggest fears in rural communities. Robert Taylor, an NFU Mutual agent in Essex, said people were turning to social media and farmwatch schemes to identify suspicious activity.
“The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks,” he added. “Our advice to people living and working in the countryside is to regularly evaluate your current security measures making improvements where necessary, remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police and farm watch.”
Sentencing needs to act as deterrent
Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner said the impact of crime is often greater in rural areas as remote locations can make people feel more vulnerable.
While he acknowledged the increased costs of crime highlighted in the NFU Mutual report, Tim Passmore said “insurance claims do not paint the whole picture”.
“Clearly any increase is very unwelcome but these statistics do not reflect our commitment to policing in rural areas,” he added.
“We do take rural crime very seriously and that is why we have introduced two experts in rural, wildlife and heritage crime, supported by a team of crime reduction and partnership co-ordinators in each of the three policing commands. “
He said he wanted to see sentencing powers used to “maximum advantage” as a deterrent. “I believe more needs to be done in areas such as plant and machinery theft, hare coursing and fly tipping to punish offenders severely,” he added.
Rural communities deserve fair share of policing
Hare coursing is the biggest issue for Suffolk’s rural policing team this summer.
Sgt Brian Calver said the team covered offences from wildlife crime to burglaries.
During the summer months, he said poaching and hare coursing were particularly prevalent, whereas acquisitive crime was a year-round problem.
Expensive tools and garden equipment such as hedge strimmers and leaf blowers were often targeted by criminal gangs seeking to sell them on the black market.
Although Sgt Calver said there were difficulties in tackling
the criminals, many of whom operate in gangs from outside the county, he said Suffolk Constabulary was committed to supporting countryside communities.
“We ware one of the few counties to have a dedicated rural crime team,” he said. “We feel strongly passionate about these issues and following the rural crime strategy. People living in rural villages deserve just as much policing as in towns.”