Tackling rural crime could get locked into 'cycle of decline' because of perception it is not taken seriously

Rural crime must be taken more seriously, key agricultural and countryside leaders have claimed, amid fears that a belief police are not taking the incidents seriously will lead to cuts to funding.

The CA launched its manifesto today. Photo: JPI Media

The Countryside Alliance and the NFU have both today called on candidates in next month’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCCs) elections to put rural crime at the forefront of their campaigns.

And the The Countryside Alliance’s chief executive Tim Bonner feared that if people did not report the crimes through a belief they would not be dealt with, this would lead to a reduction in funding for tackling issues if the statistics did not support investment.

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“It’s critically important,” Mr Bonner said as his organisation today launched their manifesto for PCCs exclusively with The Yorkshire Post today.

“The real danger is rural policing gets locked into a cycle of decline because the perception is the police are not taking it seriously.”

And he added: “The theft of a tractor is just as relevant as someone’s factory being trashed in a town.

“These are often serious, organised criminals and they are prepared to commit violent acts.”

Recently-released statistics compiled by the The Countryside Alliance last year for the PCC elections, which were then cancelled, showed that 59 per cent of people surveyed in South Yorkshire did not think the police take rural crime seriously, in the Humberside Police area this was 53 per cent, 52 per cent in South Yorkshire, and 47 per cent in North Yorkshire.

Nationally, the figure was 47 per cent and 57 per cent of the 8,000 people surveyed said the tackling of rural crime has not improved since PCCs were introduced in 2012.

And Mr Bonner said that had the survey been carried out more recently he would expect concerns over issues such as access to land, hare coursing, and dog thefts.

“Last summer there was a lot of concern about the way people were accessing the countryside and use of disposable BBQs,” he said. “We had real concern about really significant wildfires, and dog thefts as well, and the demand for dogs and puppies during the lockdowns driving that.

“And there are significant issues in Yorkshire around hare poaching and the impact that is having, especially in east Yorkshire and across lowland Yorkshire.”

The The Countryside Alliance has put forward six recommendations in their manifesto launched today, which it is hoped will be picked up by candidates across the political spectrum.

This includes specific rural crime teams, better funding for rural policing, and encouraging people to report rural crime as the The Countryside Alliance research found just one in four people did not report when they were a victim of rural crime in the belief “it was either a waste of their time to report it or that the police would not be able to do anything”.

“The way to break the cycle of these crimes is to build a level of trust and understanding,” Mr Bonner said.

It comes as results from a survey carried out by the NFU of nearly 2,000 farmers across the country found they were facing average losses of £4,400 as a result of rural crime and nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they believed crime levels were increasing.

Yorkshire farmers are spending far more than the national five-year average of £3,994, clocking up an average spend of £5,453, on preventing crime.

And the NFU found wildlife crime, particularly hare coursing, was the crime most likely to be experienced, with 51 per cent of victims in Yorkshire and the North East saying they were subjected to regular farm invasions. Other key crimes included fly-tipping, experienced by 49 per cent of victims and farm theft experienced by 41 per cent.

“The impact of crime on farms across our patch is the most common problem farmers raise with us time after time,” said NFU North East Regional Director, Adam Bedford.

“Many respondents said they are being targeted frequently with 13 per cent of Yorkshire victims and nine per cent of North East victims being subjected to more than 10 incidents in the last year alone.”

North Yorkshire Police has had a rural taskforce since 2016 and 61 per cent of people in the The Countryside Alliance survey rated the police as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in their area.

Humberside Police launched a dedicated rural taskforce in February this year, and has 60 Wildlife Crime Officers (WCOs) who, along with their normal duties, volunteer to investigate and provide advice in relation to wildlife offences. Some 38 per cent of those surveyed rated the force as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.

West Yorkshire Police also has a wildlife and rural team, and South Yorkshire Police said last year they had increased the number of dedicated wildlife crime officers to 50.

These forces were rated 44 per cent and 24 per cent respectively by those in the The Countryside Alliance survey as either 'good' or 'excellent'.

Mr Bedford said: “While it’s true that the police are beginning to recognise the impact of rural crime on individuals, families and small communities, more needs to be done to ensure adequate resourcing and joined-up local priorities – particularly in those large rural areas policed by primarily urban forces.”

Yorkshire’s police forces were approached for comment.