More police action needed to fight rural crime, say farmers

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

A campaign to crack down on rural crime has been met with scepticism from borough farmers who think it is focused on the wrong problem.

The new Crimestoppers appeal encourages members of the public to come forward with anonymous information on those harming the Thames Valley countryside.

There have been some significant thefts and break-ins in the borough in recent years, including quad bike thefts from small farms and Windsor Horse Rangers.

More recently, Thames Valley Police has been receiving several reports of suspected hare coursing (illegal hunting) in White Waltham and Eton Wick.

A new National Farmers Union (NFU) report reveals that highly organised criminals have been plaguing rural areas during the pandemic.

In the year up until April 2021, Crimestoppers received around 2,700 anonymous reports about rural crime across the UK. The charity said this number suggests a degree of under-reporting.

However, borough rural land-owners say they do not believe the problem is a lack of witnesses.

“I don’t think people are not reporting the crimes,” said David Luff, who owns Clevelands Farm in Bray, which suffered two break-ins and losses of £3,000 last year.

“The big problem is it doesn’t get followed up.”

Both Mr Luff and Colin Rayner, one of the directors of Rayner family farms, said that police ‘didn’t seem interested’ in reviewing CCTV crime footage recorded by the landowners.

Mr Rayner said he has ‘given up’ on Thames Valley Police after several fruitless crime reports.

Instead, the farms have their own private security guards, as well as significant security infrastructure.

“We have to have a five-tonne block of concrete and half a mile of fencing to keep people out, like a fortress,” he said.

“We reckon the cost of security is about £20,000 to £30,000 a year, but we have no choice.”

The farmland, which spans 2,000 acres across Maidenhead, Windsor and Slough, suffers ‘a crime a day’, he added.

These can be anything from vandalism and graffiti to break-ins, thefts of produce and poaching on the fishing lake.

“Last year we had an arson, we lost four trailers and three crops,” Mr Rayner said.

“The worst thing is the fly-tipping,” he added. “If we take that to a landfill it will cost thousands of pounds for disposal. It’s that or we get fined, which is richly unfair.”

The land also has problems with joyriders and gangs on quadbikes hare coursing, damaging crops, worrying sheep and even running over deer.

“They have no compassion for the countryside or the people. Every farmer has the same problem,” said Mr Rayner.

Mr Rayner is unconvinced that the Crimestoppers appeal will make any difference, based on previous such campaigns.

“The criminals will carry on as normal. These people have no fear of anyone or anything,” he said. “The only thing that’s changed is we have got more and more used to it.”

Thames Valley Police said the trouble with the CCTV footage in some cases is that the vehicles and individuals are unidentifiable.

Superintendent Lis Knight, lead for rural crime, said: “Thames Valley Police is aware of the impact that rural crime has and it remains a priority for us to tackle this.

"We are working closely with partner agencies and rural communities, and a new strategy is currently being developed.”

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