Why we need a rural crime team to tackle crimes in often remote areas - Dr Alan Billings

Last week I attended two meetings in the countryside to hear about rural crime. The first was called by a local councillor for Anston and Woodsetts, Tim Baum-Dixon, and the second by the MP for Rother Valley, Alexander Stafford.

Rural crimes are of two kinds. There are crimes that can happen anywhere – such as burglary or theft – which also happen in rural places, and there are crimes that can only happen in the countryside – such as the destruction of crops by quad bikes or badger baiting.

I went to each meeting with two police officers who have responsibilities for the off-road biking team and rural and wildlife crime, and two neighbourhood team officers. Those who attended the meetings in St Peter’s Church, Thorpe Salvin, and the community hall in Harthill, included farmers and two gamekeepers from the Earl of Scarbrough’s estate – where there are pheasant and partridge shoots – as well as those who live in the villages.

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Those at the meetings feared that the issues faced by people who live in villages and on farms is not always given the priority it should.

Policing in rural areas presents its own challenges.Policing in rural areas presents its own challenges.
Policing in rural areas presents its own challenges.

They felt that even the organised crime gangs who operate in the countryside are not always understood as well as the urban gangs.

But the Police and Crime Plan that I produce each year giving SYP overarching priorities, is very clear that the rural areas must not be forgotten – which is why we need a rural crime team to implement the rural crime strategy.

We covered a lot of ground – in every sense – and I listened with great care to what was said and will hold it all in mind in the discussions I have with senior officers about resourcing in the future.

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Some things stood out. The police off-road biking team (ORBIT) is highly valued and rated.

The presence of police on motorbikes, nimbly going where officers in cars can often not go, is highly disruptive and acts as a considerable deterrent.

Despite the squeeze on the public finances that we fear is coming, I hope we can see the biking team enhanced.

Several farmers spoke movingly about how isolated it is living in a farmhouse, especially on dark winter evenings.

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I think they thought I would have no personal knowledge of this, but in a former life I was for a short time vicar of Grayrigg, a remote village in the Lake District – with no shop, no post office and no pub, though a superabundance of sheep.

It was very beautiful – you can see the big hills as you travel up the M6 between Kendal and Penrith – but very, very dark at this time of year.

I recall attempting to find tracks to farmhouses in deep darkness many times and once trying to cross fields to find the west coast mainline after a Virgin train derailed. So I understand why people in a rural area can feel so vulnerable if a crime is committed on their land or property at 4am in the depth of winter.

The value of the meetings was the relationships that were being developed between the police and those who live in this corner of the county on the border with Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

A shortened version of the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire’s latest blog post.