IT is a chilling experience chasing a car load of poachers in the dead of night, knowing that your police radio doesn’t have a signal and praying they don’t have guns. Yet, that was something I regularly did as a police officer in Yorkshire when stationed on a rural beat.
There was no back-up, no one to come and help if things got rough. It was something you just got on with. People in towns may ask what the problem is with taking a few rabbits or hares from a field in the middle of the night? It was the first question I asked to Norman, the legendary village bobby for Osmotherly when I went to work in the next village. In the week I spent by his side, I soon realised that rural crime was just as important as that which happened in the towns.
During my time, I was confronted with gun crime, murder, sheep theft, burglary, arson and much, much more. Never a day went by without something happening. One thing I learnt very quickly was that people who say they are just poaching are usually up to something more sinister at the same time.
Farms and farmers are easy targets. Often isolated with no phone signal, they are rich pickings for villains. It is estimated that £44.5m per year is robbed from the countryside. That amount is staggering and if it was happening in a city, then chief constables would be on to it straight away. In 2018, the cost of rural crime was at its highest since 2011.
[https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/county-lines-crime-is-ruining-lives-and-sending-families-into-crisis-the-yorkshire-post-says-1-10199051|County lines crime is ruining lives and sending families into crisis - The Yorkshire Post says|Read here}
Sadly, rural crime is something that isn’t high on the political agenda. It is seen as a victimless crime, a few tractors here, a quad bike there and an old sheep in the boot of the Volvo that ends up in a takeaway. People think that farmers are insured, so what is the big deal?
The trouble is that rural crime is extremely serious and affects urban dwellers in their pockets. Theft increases prices for goods as higher insurance premiums and security costs are passed on to the customer.
Some farmers feel they are left to protect themselves and that the police aren’t interested. Once upon a time, not so long ago, every other village had a resident police officer. That type of real community policing has disappeared. Gone are the days when a farmer reported a crime and the village bobby was there within the hour. Many crimes go unreported, victims are threatened by villains who have no fear of the police and think the courts are a joke. Farmers cannot be expected to protect themselves and do more, that is not how policing by consent works.
I was always sickened by criminals getting off with a slapped wrist and be told they were a naughty boy even though they had a staggering list of convictions. The hard work of the police is still undermined by the CPS and the courts who make a mockery of the system. How many coppers must ask what is the point in locking up criminals, spending days on paperwork only for them to be let off at the end of it?
Rural criminals often come from nearby towns and cities. They know the system and what to tell the police when caught. Usually they hide what they have stolen and go back for it days later so as not to be caught with it at the time of the crime. Often, they are involved in other crimes such as the supply of drugs. To them, stealing a quad bike, robbing a farmhouse is just another way of getting money. They know that the chances of getting caught are less in the countryside as there aren’t any police about at night.
One burglar I caught knew that on a Friday and Saturday night all the rural coppers were called into the local town for the pubs kicking out time. He went about his business with impunity, laughing all the way to the bank.
In modern day policing, all the rural police houses have gone. Centralised policing is the norm and the connection between police and the rural community is virtually non-existent. North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force consists of seven police officers, seven PCSOs, a sergeant and an inspector. That is a woefully small number of officers to tackle an explosion in rural crime.
If the issue is to be taken seriously, then officers have to be put back into the countryside. Farmers and country dwellers have to feel safe and looked after. Boris Johnson and the Government have to recognise that something has to be done to fight crime in the countryside. County line gangs are not a new phenomenon, they were on the go in the 1990s. Rural crime will not go away until law-makers, police and the courts start to take the matter seriously.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster from North Yorkshire.