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Round Table held to address rural community concerns

FARMERS and local residents came together at Pidley’s Lakeside Lodge, Huntingdon on Wednesday evening this week as part of Police and Crime Commissioner, Darryl Preston’s commitment to listen to all communities.

The meeting, hosted by Darryl’s Deputy Commissioner, John Peach, provided an update on the work of the Constabulary’s Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT) and included a screening of footage showing officers tracking hare coursers by a drone.

Presentations were also delivered by key partners including Countryside Watch and the National Farmers’ Union to highlight success stories in the fight to protect the countryside.

New figures show incidents of illegal coursing, lamping and poaching – which place the biggest demand on the RCAT – have dropped by almost half (47%) in 2021/22 compared to the previous year.

The team brought 66 prosecutions throughout the year with a 93 per cent success rate, with defendants either pleading guilty or being found guilty at court.

During the meeting, farmers expressed consistent and unanimous praise for the work of the team and called for further reinforcements that could expand coverage across the county’s rural communities.

Other issues raised included the underreporting of rural crime due to difficulties contacting 101 and using the online service while out in the fields and the need for the force to take into greater account the vulnerability of the rural community when incidents or crimes were reported.

Speaking after the meeting, Police and Crime Commissioner, Darryl Preston said: “This was a good opportunity for my team to meet with farmers and listen to their concerns. Tackling rural crime is a partnership effort and so it was particularly helpful for all agencies to come together in one place to discuss how we can respond to problems collectively.

“More than 90 per cent of our landscape is rural and protecting the livelihoods and safety of our rural residents is something that I take very seriously. Earlier this year, I campaigned alongside MPs and partners for tougher hare coursing laws. The new legislation that followed has made a real difference, with offenders now facing unlimited fines and up to six months in prison if they are caught breaking the law.

“There is much more to do. By March 2023, the county will see record numbers of police officers on the streets which will benefit all residents including those living in more remote areas of the county. I would continue to urge residents to report rural crime to the police. With your support, we can deliver a consistent and responsive service across all our communities.”

Cllr Charlotte Lowe, who represents Warboys ward at Huntingdonshire District Council, said: “Tonight’s meeting was fantastic. I think there was an awful lot of information shared both ways and there’s an awful lot of support for RCAT.”

Local farmer Stacey Branson added: “We need more RCAT. They are the best asset in the police force. They understand the rural area. There needs to be a real push in the next year for more RCAT officers.”

In 2021-22, 1,027 rural crime incidents were reported to RCAT. The team led 740 investigations into heritage, hunting, rural or wildlife crime and helped to reunite farmers with stolen equipment throughout the year.

Last month, the team recovered around £250k worth of suspected stolen agricultural GPC equipment in Peterborough.

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