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'I see keys left in quad bikes and I say to people, times have changed - you can’t do that any more'

As the rural community ask for more support to tackle crime, Emily Ashworth spends the day with North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Task Force to find out what issues farming is really facing.

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Rural police tram dedicate themselves to local community

As blue skies rest gently over the iconic North Yorkshire Moors, the sight looks nothing but idyllic.

 

But delve deeper into the area’s rural communities and you will find that the threat of rural crime is a worrying issue for many.

 

A recent study by the CLA has shown about 60 per cent of rural businesses worry about becoming a victim of crime and in 2018, rural crime was said to have cost farmers almost £50 million, hitting a seven-year high.

 

Trying to tackle that in and around North Yorkshire is a dedicated rural crime team.

 

Sergeant Stuart Grainger, PCSO Bryan Tongue and PCSO Iain McNeill come across anything from machinery theft to hare coursing.

 

Of late, the team has seen an increasing number of wildlife crimes such as badger baiting and the killing of birds of prey.

 

The Rural Task Force was created after Julia Mulligan – police, fire and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire and chair of the National Rural Crime Network – commissioned a rural crime survey.

 

The results clearly showed communities lacked confidence in the police, so the establishment of a rurally focused police force means relationships can be built and confidence instilled as a result.

 

Alongside North Wales, they are the only areas to have such rurally focused teams.

 

But the challenge they face is the lack of calls to report issues, which means if crimes are not noted, future resources will not be offered.

 

“There is an, ‘it will be alright’ attitude,” says Iain.

 

“We were specifically set up for the farming community, but we aren’t going to get more support or be able to tackle specific crimes if they aren’t reported. It’s about trying to engage.

 

“People don’t want just a phone call either. If you can go and visit them and have a chat, they can see what you’re all about.

 

“I tell people to ring me, WhatsApp me and email me whenever they need to.”

 

The team frequently sees the damage done to farmers first-hand though, and sheep worrying, along with quad bike theft and wildlife crime, is a continual battle.

 

Stuart says: “It comes from ignorance of walking in the countryside. People are blissfully unaware of the damage it can do by having their dogs off the lead.

 

“I remember two days before Christmas last year, a local farmer shot two dogs for killing five of his sheep. A dog’s instincts will just take over.”


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Safeguarding

 

The team can do about 200 miles a day and carry out a multitude of jobs aside from dealing with specific crime incidents.

 

They offer rural inhabitants the chance to be part of a ‘Community Messaging’ scheme where they can receive updates on what is going on in the area – for example any suspicious vehicles to look out for and alerts about crime which have taken place.

 

The team also works with farmers to ensure valuable assets are marked and recorded, giving them more chance of being found if stolen.

 

Bryan recently dealt with the theft of a cattle crush, and after noting there were more assets on-farm which could be a potential target, signed the farmer up to the messaging scheme and arranged to go back and get serial numbers put on all valuables.

 

Bryan says: “As well as marking and recording valuable assets, we really recommend fitting tracking devices. They are invaluable, and the tracking rate is phenomenal.

 

“We call it ‘target hardening’ – putting practices in place to make it harder.

 

“In the long term, it’s probably worth spending some money on this sort of thing. Even just by putting signs up, you’re setting the rules.

 

“But it’s also about offering a personal service and we find a lot of land owners are open to this process.”

 

The community itself is also an integral part of helping to tackle rural crime, with watch groups set up for the past 30 years. And, says Stuart, local knowledge is sometimes imperative to the cases at hand.

 

Meandering through the villages though, these communities still have that untouched look of days gone by, while society has moved on, says Iain.

 

“I see keys left in quad bikes and things get left open and I say to people, times have changed – you can’t do that any more,” he says.

 

“But that’s why I love this job – that communities can still come together.

 

“If I get a call and it’s someone I know, it’s a case of get the kettle on.

 

“To be in this job, you have to have a passion for it because otherwise, the people you’re dealing with can tell.”

 

The team reiterate the threat of poaching too, as many farmers across the county struggle with groups ruining crops and trespassing on their land during the night.

 

This year has been particularly bad, says Iain.

 

He says: “They drive across freshly drilled fields and ruin them.

 

“It seemed to ease off over the last couple of years, but we normally wouldn’t get half the calls we are getting this year. Sometimes you see cars parked up with a load of dogs in the back and just you know what they’re doing.”

Operation Owl

  • North Yorkshire, says Stuart, is the worst place for crimes against birds of prey. Operation Owl, a national operation, was launched to make people aware of what to look out for.

Passion

 

But more than anything, this job is about the people who live and work in the countryside.

 

For Bryan, whose father and grandfather were also in the police, being part of the Rural Task Force has a rather ‘old bobby on the beat’ feel, and the positive responses they have had is proof their presence is vital to those in isolated areas.

 

Bryan says: “I guess it’s in the blood, but for me, I get to work in this beautiful countryside and engage and spend time with people in local areas.”

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