Rural crime: a viewpoint from the National Rural Crime Unit

Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, Head of the National Rural Crime Unit, explains the challenges of policing rural crime and the benefits of collaboration between police and the public
Andrew Huddleston
Superintendent Andrew Huddleston

This week is National Rural Crime Week and never in my 28 years of policing has the crime we are seeing in our rural communities been so rooted in serious organised crime. It is no longer just local or regional criminals we are dealing with, it is well structured national and even international organised crime groups.

#RuralCrimeWeek is all about putting a focus on the crime issues affecting the area where you live, and linking this to what is being done by the police and their partners such as the NRCN and CLA. Make no mistake - we will not arrest our way out of rural crime. It is only through really good partnership working and everyone doing their bit that we will see a difference.

A look at the figures for rural crime shows we are facing a continued targeting of our rural areas and that international influences such as the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia have been fundamental to increases in machinery and GPS unit thefts. Never before have we seen such rises. For example, the lowest number of machinery thefts in a month in 2022 was 40 and the highest we have had so far in 2023 is 186.

Large-scale, well-organised theft of high value equipment from agriculture and construction is now big business. In the first seven months of this year, the National Construction and Agricultural Machinery Theft Team has helped recover over £2.6m worth of stolen machines. This is why we really do need the new Equipment Theft Prevention Act in place. This will make a difference by mandating all machinery from quad bikes to £100,000+ tractors have modern security, and that they can’t just be started with a screwdriver – I think many people would agree it’s ridiculous in this day and age that high value machinery can be started and driven away so easily.

Rural policing teams and many partners across the UK are this week showcasing what they do year-round, not just for this seven day period. Whilst we undoubtedly face a challenge, there is some truly outstanding work going on from the South West and South East with their regional partnerships against rural crime. Including Thames Valley with their award winning Rural Crime Team, North Wales visiting every farm, North Yorkshire with its great use of WhatsApp, Northumberland and its innovative use of Rural Crime Volunteers to Scotland, and the forming of Operation Hawkeye with the Northern regional forces and sharing rural crime intelligence – this is just a snapshot of some of the great work going on.

I often get asked “what is the best tool to fight rural crime?” The answer is easy - Rural Watch Schemes

Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, Head of the National Rural Crime Unit

Rural Watch Schemes are without doubt the most powerful advance in tackling crime I have seen in my career. If anyone - police, industry or public want to reduce rural crime, this is a must have. It works most effectively when the community not only help identify criminality but also, crucially, deter offenders by making the area hostile places for them to operate in, which I think is brilliant. This is the public and the police working together at its very best.

I’m very proud to lead the newly formed National Rural Crime Unit. It is a very small team but is made up of outstanding people who all aim to further improve the support of police forces with not just machinery thefts but also livestock theft and fly-tipping.

Where I do believe we are already making a difference is in far better national co-ordination, sharing of best practice and challenging big organisations so that we are all doing the best we can to reduce crime and protect our rural communities.

Rural Crime

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