Action is needed to halt rural crime, says Dr Smith

24 August 2018

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THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who is the lead bishop on rural affairs, has issued a warning over news that rural crime is rising.

Dr Smith said that it was “no surprise” that the NFU Mutual’s rural crime report suggested that rural crime cost the UK £44.5 million in 2017, and had risen by 13.4 per cent from 2016.

He highlighted the “huge issue” of fly-tipping in the countryside — something, he said, on which action needed to be taken.

As well as fly-tipping, rural crimes that are affecting communities in the countryside include theft of livestock, machinery, and vehicles, and the use of farmland for “hare coursing”, the report says.

NFU Mutual says that farmers are increasingly being forced to use “medieval measures” to tackle criminals, including building earth banks and ditches, and using reinforced gates and protective animals.

The report says: “When used in conjunction with the latest technology, traditional security can be extremely effective, particularly for keeping away thieves who no longer fear being caught on CCTV, or who have the skills to overcome electronic security systems.”

On fly-tipping, it says: “According to the NFU’s figures, fly-tipping affects two-thirds of farmers in the UK. As incidents increase, more and more tonnes of rubbish are being dumped in the countryside each year.”

It was a “huge issue” for farmers especially, Dr Smith said, and was something that he had been pushing the Government on in the House of Lords.

He said earlier this month: “The Government claims that it has given councils sufficient powers to deal with the problem. Yet DEFRA’s own figures reveal that 51 per cent of local authorities have yet to have a single prosecution, and there have been no fines imposed by 44 per cent of local authorities.

“If local authorities are not prepared to act, then surely central government needs to take more drastic action to tackle this crime.”

He said that it was a farmer from Bedfordshire, in his diocese, who was struggling with the issue, that made him campaign on fly-tipping.

A separate report and survey, Living on the Edge, published by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) last month, says that rural communities are being “left behind” their urban counterparts when it comes to crime.

Julia Mulligan, who chairs the NRCN, writes in the foreword: “Crime is up. Anger is up. Frustration is up. Trust is down. Those rating the police as good is down. And with 10.3 million people living in rural areas — these are trends we can no longer ignore.”

The report goes on to say: “It is time to give those who live and work in our countryside the support they need. It is time for those in positions of authority to sit up and take notice. It is time for rural communities to be listened to.”

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