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Farmers ‘at war’ with rural criminal gangs

New report reveals there are at least 22 serious organised crime gangs operating in the countryside, and not enough police to deal with them.

Farmers and landowners say they are “at war” with countryside crime gangs and need more help from specialist rural police officers. 

One farmer said he faced “constant warfare” against balaclava-clad thieves breaking into his farmyard. A new report by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) warns that police forces in England and Wales that cover large rural areas are “in crisis” and need more funding to fight back against the organised gangs. The CLA’s warning comes after a report by Durham University earlier this year found there were 22 serious organised criminal gangs active in the countryside. 

Hampshire Constabulary – one of the 36 forces covering the countryside to whom the CLA sent a Freedom of Information inquiry – has its own dedicated rural crime team. The team has specialist equipment, including surveillance drones, 4×4 vehicles, thermal spotters and microchip scanners. 

However, the CLA found that — of the 20 police forces that provided information — five do not have a rural crime unit and no force had more than 0.7% of officers dedicated to tackling criminals operating in the countryside. 

Durham Constabulary, which polices a predominantly rural area, does not have a dedicated rural crime team, while Leicestershire Police has allocated only eight officers out of a total force of 2,252 to its rural crime team. 

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan said “the rural policing system is in crisis” with some farmers left feeling like they are in “a constant and expensive battle to keep criminal gangs at bay”. 

The latest annual national rural crime survey shows rural offences had risen by 22%, with a total estimated cost of £49.5 million in insurance claims. 

The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) — comprising Police and Crime Commissioners and organisations representing rural communities — has called for the future government to fund new specialist rural crime coordinators, rural crime training for all officers and control centre staff, and greater use of technology. 

Farmer Martin Hole, chairman of East Sussex NFU, told Shooting Times: “Rural crime affects nearly every farm. From theft, vandalism, stock rustling or the interference of trespass. We are isolated and hard to defend and rely on police protection from forces often otherwise deployed. It carries an emotional, economic, and physical toll. 

“Farmers are grateful for any and all help from the police, but believe more resourcing is necessary.”