Rural crime special report: Farming families left traumatised by hare coursers

Graham Stuart MP
Graham Stuart MP

POLICE should be given heightened powers to clamp down on hare-coursing gangs who bring misery to the countryside each year, a Yorkshire MP has said.

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart said he was lobbying the Government to tighten the legislation to help police combat the “abhorrent rural crime”.

He has joined with the Country, Land and Business Association to call for affected landowners to be able to claim compensation and allow the police to reclaim the cost of looking after dogs seized from offenders.

Humberside Police spent 1,200 hours battling hare coursing in the past year, with more than 500 reports of the crime in the 2017/18 season, a police report reveals.

The Conservative MP said: “Humberside Police’s latest report into hare coursing shows the scale of this issue across our area, particularly in the vast, arable and flat farmland of Holderness. While the force have a good record on responding to offenders, with 28 dedicated days of action over the past year, they need assistance both from the law and from members of the public.”

The pursuit has been illegal since the Hunting Act of 2004 and sees ‘sighthounds’ such as lurchers, greyhounds or salukis set on hares, often with large sums of money bet on the outcome.

In North Yorkshire, a new approach to cracking down on the gangs has proved such a success that forces across the country have also taken it on.

Its 17-strong Rural Taskforce has developed a way for under-pressure police forces to be able to question suspects without having to transport them to a police station.

Sergeant Kev Kelly said ordinarily, if a group of five people were suspected of hare coursing, this could mean taking them in for questioning using five separate police vans.

He said at a time of “significant budget cuts” they did not have this luxury, so they instead opted for roadside interviews. A booklet in all North Yorkshire police cars guides officers through the interview process and they retain the power to seize cars and dogs, he said.

A digital version of the booklet is now being developed and should be in use within the next 12 months. The idea has also been taken on by Yorkshire’s other three forces as well as those in Lincolnshire, Cleveland, Cumbria, Sussex and Scotland.

Sgt Kelly said hare coursing had reached “epidemic” levels across the country and from late summer North Yorkshire would be hit by groups travelling in from places such as Cleveland, Bishop Auckland and Durham. He said they could intimidate landowners and their families to such an extent that they could be left traumatised.

He said: “You see people crying, they are so scared. These people will come back across your land and threaten to burn your house down. That’s why I have taken such a stance about it. We won’t have it. It’s unacceptable.”

Sgt Kelly said in once case he had dealt with, a farming family with two young daughters were left “prisoners in their own home” after a group of hare coursers intimidated them.

He said: “The kids wouldn’t go out because they were terrified. The mum wouldn’t go out. Only the dad would go out. It shows the deep impact it can have.”