In many peopleâ€™s perception, rural crime is a bit of mild rabbit and pheasant poaching. It is not. It is the systematic theft of heavy plant and machinery for export abroad by serious organised crime gangs. It is the serious intimidation of rural communities. It is the theft of sheep and cattle, the illegal killing of deer, and hare coursing. It is the damage to fences, gates and drainage caused by illegal 4X4s driving across farms.
For too long, this has been treated as a minor crime, when it clearly is not, and this perception has now largely been overcome. Â The police throughout most areas have woken up to this and Police and Crime Commissioners have played a major part in this fundamental change of attitude. We are already seeing the results of this with a considerable drop of 19 per cent in rural crime in the Thames Valley area.
Messaging systems such as Thames Valleyâ€™s Country Watch alert system go a considerable way to help police prevent, disrupt and detect criminal activity by enabling them to engage with the individuals, communities and businesses most affected by rural crime. The CESAR marking of farm machinery, and the recording of identification markings on all equipment that has a resale value, is making the job of police to track and recover stolen goods considerably easier.
In Thames Valley, I made rural crime a priority, and it is now being taken with the seriousness it deserves.Â Victims of this type of crime should now expect to receive a far better service with a police response that is appropriate to the crime.
One area of concern though is that the Crown Prosecution Service does not currently have enough people trained in rural crime issues, and too often cases are rejected, often at the last moment. This does nothing for the welfare of victims or witnesses, who in some cases have felt threatened while they waited to go to court. These outcomes are bad for police morale and waste huge amounts of time and money. It is important that agencies work together to achieve successful outcomes for victims and witnesses and I hope that the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime will go a long way in ensuring that the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies get a proper grip of this.
Overall I am optimistic that we are getting somewhere on this â€“ and about time too.