Rural crime special report: On-shift with Britain's largest rural policing taskforce

Sergeant Kev Kelly and PC Mick Carr in pursuit of a gang stealing quad bikes
Sergeant Kev Kelly and PC Mick Carr in pursuit of a gang stealing quad bikes

The clock is ticking.

A gang of at least three burglars has struck in North Yorkshire’s leafy Craven district, stealing two quad bikes from a rural business.

If the criminals are to be caught before they strike again, the police need to make a breakthrough within the first 72 hours after the crime, and a day has already passed.

A car believed to have been used in the burglary has now been spotted in suspicious circumstances and two officers from North Yorkshire Police’s dedicated rural taskforce are following up on the lead.

Speaking from the passenger seat of the team’s Vauxhall Antara, Sergeant Kev Kelly explains why the timing is so crucial. He says often burglars will steal an item, sell it and “do drink or drugs” for a while before heading back out on the next job - and they want to step in before that happens.

“We need to take this group out,” he says. “We need to get them.”

PC Mick Carr, behind the wheel, adds: “This organised crime group, they’ve started changing how they steal. They used to go out at night before but now it’s in broad daylight.”

It means there is no time to waste. Before the police put out an alert marking the car as wanted, they need to make sure it is still in the gang’s possession and hasn’t been returned to a business address in Bradford.

“It might seem a bit hectic and a bit full-on,” says Sgt Kelly. “There’s very rarely time for a cup of tea.”

A few hours later, the checks are done and the alert goes out to all police forces in the UK to stop and arrest the occupants of the car if it is seen on the roads.

But the quad bikes did not have tracker devices fitted and the officers admit hopes are fading that they will be recovered.

Sgt Kelly says: “At the moment tracker is king. If you have got a tracker in it, you are probably going to get it back.”

However, in an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse, as anti-theft technology advances, so does the kit used by the thieves to circumvent it.

“They’ve just adapted to different ways of committing this crime and getting away with it,” PC Carr says.

Sgt Kelly says the burglars themselves will be only a small part of a wider criminal network which move the stolen goods around the country and even abroad.

“The networks are extensive and they are ever-changing,” he says.

“The burglars will get a shadow of the retail price, £500 or so, but it is ready cash to them.”

The duo are part of the 17-strong rural taskforce set up in North Yorkshire two years ago, in the wake of a national study which found the cost of rural crime to the country could be as high as £800m a year.

It is believed to be the largest dedicated team of its kind and in its first year, taskforce officers made 101 arrests, reported 71 people for summons and seized 39 vehicles.

Every day is different, Sgt Kelly says, as they may be hunting organised crime groups in neighbouring counties one day and networking with farmers at a community event the next.

They have recently made headway cracking down on the theft of Land Rover Defenders, he says, but now criminals appear to be setting their sights on quad bikes, which are “very easy to steal”.

And with the team covering the whole of North Yorkshire, from Whitby to Skipton, they have the largest beat in the country.

Inspector Jon Grainge, who leads the team, says they have “definitely had an impact” in their first two years.

He says building strong links with communities helps them pass on crime prevention tips and also brings in intelligence which can prove crucial in solving crimes.

Campaigners for better rural policing have welcomed the setting up of North Yorkshire’s taskforce.

But a rural insurer has warned that without a uniform approach across the country, there can be unintended knock-on effects on neighbouring areas.

“We find that when police forces set up well-resourced rural police initiatives they are usually successful in reducing crime and we have been encouraged by headway being made in North

Yorkshire, says Rebecca Davidson, a rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual.

“However the problem of rural crime doesn’t simply go away, it gets displaced so we find rural thieves simply steal from the surrounding area where the force doesn’t have a scheme in place.”