NORTH Yorkshire’s Conservative crime commissioner candidate has claimed the true scale of rural crime gripping the county is being masked by official police figures and warned an ongoing Home Office review could see £8.5m stripped from the force’s budget to tackle the problem.
Julia Mulligan, who is running against Labour’s Ruth Potter to be elected the county’s first crime commissioner in the November 15 election, says she has been inundated with complaints from farmers as she has toured North Yorkshire’s villages and auction marts.
She has told the Yorkshire Post the sheer number of reports she has been made aware of is at odds with the latest figures which show rural crime has fallen across the county by 10 per cent, and says it is vital a rural top-up grant paid to the force from the Home Office, which is currently part of an informal review, is maintained.
North Yorkshire Police received £8.5m in 2010/2011 and £7.5m for 2012/2013, although it is not clear whether the funding will continue in future budgets.
It is understood a decision is to be made later this year.
Statistics released by NFU Mutual, which insures three-quarters of the UK’s farmers, show the region has seen a significant rise in the number of cases of sheep rustling which experts are linking to the rising price of meat, with animals often butchered in unlicensed slaughter houses.
In one recent case, a farmer in West Marton, near Skipton, had £40,000 in livestock stolen.
Meanwhile, red diesel, tools and expensive agricultural machinery are also being targeted by gangs of travelling criminals coming into rural North Yorkshire, with some items being stolen to order and shipped as far as Afghanistan and parts of Africa.
“While we see it is falling I do wonder whether the statistics are masking a rural crime problem in particular,” Mrs Mulligan said.
“One of the things I have been doing in the run-up to this election is focusing on rural crime because 60 per cent of North Yorkshire is predominantly rural.
“The majority of farmers I have spoken to have been a victim of crime – this is very commonplace and is happening a lot. Farmers have said to me they do not bother reporting the crimes because they don’t think police will catch the perpetrators.
“They are also now taking steps themselves to try and stop criminals including putting machinery behind livestock.”
Mrs Mulligan said she also wants to launch a campaign to persuade the Home Office to maintain the “sparsity” top-up element of the Police Allocation Funding Formula, which she claims could result in a loss of £8.5m to the annual North Yorkshire Police budget.
In August, NFU Mutual claimed in the north east region alone – which includes North Yorkshire – the cost of livestock rustling more than doubled in 2011, leaving a bill of more than £1.4m for farmers.
Coun John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said there is no question rural crime is on the rise.
“Farmers, and particularly upland farmers are often people living on the breadline,” he said.
“They can never be classed as wealthy.
“Any suggestion we are going to lose millions in funding to deal with these rural crime issues is a real worry.
“As far as I’m concerned it is simply going to be a license for criminals to carry on regardless.”
North Yorkshire Police declined to comment in the run up to the elections.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We conducted an informal consultation on damping policy in the summer and Ministers are now carefully considering the responses.
“No decisions have yet been made.”