SURREY’S Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner says the profits of rural crime are helping to fuel organised crime across the UK.
This week marks National Rural Crime Week, which aims to raise awareness of the issues faced by countryside communities. Ahead of the week of action, Ellie Vesey-Thompson joined Surrey Police’s PC Laura Rowley on a visit to three farms in the east of Surrey to learn more about the key issues affecting rural communities in the county.
Anti-social behaviour and criminal damage were among the top priorities for those living in the Surrey countryside.
Dog attacks on livestock are also a key concern. In Dorking, a farmer lost more than 30 sheep during a single incident. The same farmer also reported young people repeatedly climbing stacked hay bales on his property to light barbecues and causing criminal damage to the bales by cutting them open and strewing the contents around.
In a separate incident, vandals recently trespassed onto land, broke into a pheasant pen and killed a number of the birds, leaving the bodies in a pile for the owners to find the following day.
Theft of plant machinery and specialist GPS units are particularly lucrative for organised crime groups (OCGs). National reports suggest that these OCGs are exploiting current sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the war with Ukraine to steal farm machinery to order.
During a rural crime conference in London earlier this year, delegates including the Deputy Commissioner heard there are strong links connecting rural offences – including burglaries committed on farmland – to organised crime.
Ellie, who carries the rural crime remit for the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office, said: “This issue has a significant impact. Like a stone thrown in a pond, the harm caused can ripple outwards, causing far graver and more widely-reaching consequences than you’d first imagine.
“During the conference I heard from experts including Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, who leads the UK’s National Rural Crime Unit, that this type of offending is fuelled in part by organised crime groups.
“Machinery thefts not only cause financial harm and delays to farm communities, but often result in huge profits to the OCGs responsible.
“We know that organised crime does so much harm to society, and the crimes committed by gangs in rural areas can fund activities including drug and firearms trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
“Offences not linked to OCGs also have a huge impact. For example, youths lighting barbecues in a barn filled with hay might appear to be little more than an annoyance, but this reckless and extremely dangerous act could so easily result in tragedy.
‘It does so much harm’
“The deaths of livestock in dog attacks is not only hugely traumatic for the animals, but can also have a devastating impact on farmers, who are forced to deal with truly horrific scenes. Such incidents also drive up insurance premiums for them, and prices at the supermarket for those who have no connection to rural communities.
“Rural crime does not exist in a vacuum. These offences are serious and alarming, and they can cause huge distress to members of the public who have no connection whatsoever to the initial incident.
“We know rural crime is under-reported, at a direct contrast to how serious this type of crime is to this affected. I urge our countryside communities to report all incidents to Surrey Police.
“I’m hugely proud of our rural crime team, including the fantastic PC Rowley. Each member is dedicated to working with Surrey’s residents to identify offenders and bring them to justice, as well as increasing awareness of the damage this type of criminal behaviour can cause.”
Ellie attended a national conference outlining the links between rural crime and OCGs during the summer