Police start fresh crackdown on rural burglars and poachers

A MAJOR crackdown on rural crime is being launched across vast swathes of rural North Yorkshire to combat worrying cases of thefts and burglaries in isolated areas and to further squeeze gangs of poachers out of the county.

North Yorkshire Police has announced the new clampdown, called Operation Wagtail, this week.

It it is hoped this will further expand the hugely-successful Operation Jumbo, which has sparked a surge in arrests and dramatic reduction in cases of poaching since it was launched in Selby before being rolled out to other parts of the county last year.

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Officers say Operation Wagtail follows fresh concerns from a number of rural communities across the Upper Dales that they are being targeted by thieves, and will focus on gangs of criminals travelling into North Yorkshire from other parts of the country to commit crimes.

Poachers will also be directly targeted by officers.

Inspector David Murray, who is leading the crackdown, said: “Operation Wagtail has two main priorities, firstly, to reassure people living and working in rural areas that we are dealing with the offenders who blight their lives, and secondly, to send a strong message to anyone intent on committing offences that their actions will not be tolerated and we deal with them robustly.

“As well as targeting incidents of rural theft and burglary, officers will also focus on those individuals who trespass on private land under the guise of poaching.

“These people often use the excuse of poaching or walking the dog to check out farm buildings and other premises, but in any case this repeated trespass causes landowners great frustration.

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“When officers encounter people who are on land without permission in suspicious circumstances, they will be challenged as to their behaviour and have their details recorded, as well as property potentially seized as evidence.”

As part of the crackdown, extra patrols will be drafted into both areas and focused on known routes used by criminals coming into North Yorkshire.

Further work will also take place engaging local countryside and neighbourhood watch members.

As police funding cuts continue to bite, rural crime officers say establishing a vast network of contacts across the North Yorkshire countryside to ensure the poachers continue to be snared is more important than ever before.

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There are a number of Dales Watch teams – made up of farmers and residents – who already go on patrol with officers in the area.

Sergeant Stuart Grainger, of Leyburn Police Station, said: “Operation Wagtail not only involves police officers and Police Community Support Officers across Hambleton and Richmondshire, but also vital support from members of the Countrywatch Partnership and other local Watch Schemes across the district.

“The more eyes and ears that we have out there the better.”

In the first few weeks of Operation Jumbo, in Selby, officers conducted 114 searches and stopped and checked 331 vehicles, seizing 12 dogs.

This resulted in 25 arrests, nine people reported for summons and 12 vehicles also being seized.

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In April last year it was rolled out to other rural parts of the county including the countryside around Harrogate, where recent problems with a re-emergence of sheep rustling have been reported.

The launch of Operation Jumbo followed in the wake of stinging criticism of North Yorkshire Police by The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, which accused the force of neglecting rural crime across a huge area.

The organisation, which has 15,000 members in England and Wales, strongly criticised the force after criminal proceedings were brought against three gamekeepers in Swaledale who confronted two suspected poachers on their land.

All three gamekeepers were charged with affray but were cleared following a four-day trial at Teesside Crown Court.