Barn Storming

Claire Wright, CLA Regional Surveyor comments on work in Northamptonshire to protect rural communities from crime.

I recently attended the latest in a series of Barn Meetings hosted by the Police & Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire. These meetings have been held in various locations around the county with the aim of bringing together farmers and rural communities to share concerns about rural crime and to update attendees on campaigns being undertaken by the Rural Safety Partnership to reduce crime in rural locations.

PC Abbey Anstead joined the meeting to explain the work of the rural crime team which is made up of two officers, PC Anstead and PC Gillies. They take responsibility for incidents relating to badgers, raptor persecution, poaching offences and the illegal import of endangered species. They also advise other frontline officers on specialist investigations and train control room staff and police officers in basic rural crime knowledge. The team record all rural crime on a daily basis to pick up trends within rural areas and to plan operations. They also work closely with neighbouring forces and external agencies including RSPCA, Natural England, Environment Agency and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

PC Anstead used the meeting to highlight some of the rural crime trends in the county over recent months. Agricultural thefts particularly of John Deere GreenStar satellite systems and livestock handling equipment have spiked in the last few months. Theft of livestock, quadbikes and trailers also remain an issue.

There have been 40 cases of livestock worrying over the last 12 months. Livestock worrying is a crime and needs to be reported to police. It is a national priority and the legislation is going to be reviewed to make it more robust and suitable for modern agriculture. The current legislation doesn’t include specialist livestock such as alpacas. The maximum fine at present is £1000 and as a result Northamptonshire Police tend to go down the Community Resolution path as this can ensure the perpetrator has to cover the costs of the incident in terms of vet fees and the value of the livestock lost. Police can also place a Voluntary Control Order on the dog; this is essentially a canine ASBO and can require such actions as the dog to be muzzled when being walked.  Livestock owners can place signs up to remind dog walkers that livestock are in the field but remove these when livestock not grazing as people become blasé to signs they see every day.

Northamptonshire police see poaching and hare coursing as a priority because of the damage caused to farm premises, the violence against rural residents, wider criminality links and the animal welfare implications. If the incident is in progress then use 999. Recently the force helicopter was deployed and three people were arrested for poaching offences after a 999 call was made by a farmer. If you have seen signs of poaching activity after the event then please use 101 or online reporting to share intelligence. Without reports of incidents then it is impossible to get a handle on the scale of the problem and to plan operations accordingly.

Another speaker at the meeting was PC John ‘Hutch’ Hutchings, a wildlife crime officer with Daventry & South Northamptonshire neighbourhood policing team. Hutch explained that every report of a crime creates a dot on a map that is visible to the neighbourhood policing teams. This enables them to see where problems are happening and to plan operations accordingly. If you don’t report rural crime to the police then it hasn’t happened and resources and officers will not be deployed to deal with it.

PC Hutchings concluded the meeting by thanking all the farmers in the room who had helped the police when needed whether that was clearing fallen trees, clearing the snow, offering their farms for police training or loaning suitable vehicles for police use.