NFU calls for action on rural crime in Bedfordshire following PCC elections

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A Bedfordshire farming leader is calling for rural crime to be a priority following last week’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections.

John Tizard has become Bedfordshire’s new PCC, replacing Festus Akinbusoye, who has held the role since 2021.

Rural crime has far-reaching consequences, impacting farmers both financially and emotionally. Many farm businesses are also homes for farmers and their families, which can make victims of rural crime feel unsafe and vulnerable.

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Machinery theft, fly-tipping, dog attacks on livestock and hare coursing continue to plague farming communities, costing the UK £49.5 million in 20221 alone. This financial impact, however, only just scratches the surface, given the broader impacts of these crimes, which can often go towards funding organised crime and are underestimated and underreported.

NFU Chair for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire Freya Morgan.NFU Chair for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire Freya Morgan.
NFU Chair for Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire Freya Morgan.

The NFU is calling on members to join its campaign by signing an open letter to every newly elected PCC. The letter outlines key recommendations to address rural crime, including:

  1. Ensuring priorities for addressing rural crime are detailed in the PCC’s Police & Crime Plan.
  2. Recruiting a dedicated rural crime specialist.
  3. Engaging regularly with the farming community and their representatives.
  4. Delivering effective response and investigation of crimes impacting farm businesses.
  5. Working with farm businesses on effective crime prevention strategies.
  6. Developing a strategy to counter the impact of Organised Crime Groups in operating in rural areas.
  7. Providing greater rural crime training for officers and control centres.

NFU Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire chair Freya Morgan said positive progress has been made in tackling rural crime in Bedfordshire in recent years due to collaborative work between the NFU, PCC, Bedfordshire Police and MP Richard Fuller.

Mrs Morgan highlighted, as an example, how police across the country have been given greater powers to tackle hare coursing after sustained petitioning by the NFU and other organisations and individuals.

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The NFU is calling for rural crime to be a priority in Bedfordshire.The NFU is calling for rural crime to be a priority in Bedfordshire.
The NFU is calling for rural crime to be a priority in Bedfordshire.

North East Bedfordshire MP Richard Fuller tabled a private members bill on hare coursing , following collaboration with the NFU.

The new legislation came into effect on August 1, 2022, and helps to deter hare coursers by giving police forces the means to seize more dogs and by lifting the existing limit on fines.

On top of this, Bedfordshire Police’s Rural Crime Action Team has increased from six to 10, with one sergeant and nine police constables.

Mrs Morgan believes police communication with the rural community has improved, the online crime reporting system has become more effective and police officers and call handlers now have a much better understanding of rural crime and its impact than in the past.

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Following the PCC elections, Mrs Morgan now hopes this progress will continue.

PCCs have powers to set local policing priorities and budgets.

Mrs Morgan said: “I would like to congratulate John Tizard on his new role as PCC for Bedfordshire and wish him well in this challenging role.

“He will be taking over one of the top performing police forces in the country.

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“We have made significant inroads into policing rural crime in Bedfordshire under the watch of Festus Akinbusoye.

“We are very grateful to Festus for his support over the last three years.

“Members of the NFU are looking to continue this work with the incoming PCC.

“We plan to continue our bi-annual meetings with the PCC, deputy PCC and rural crime team and engaging in other activities, ensuring rural crime is detailed in the PCC Police and Crime Plan.

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“The rural crime team for the whole of Bedfordshire consists of only 10 officers. We would like to see that number increased.

“Rural crime has changed over the years. Larger thefts are affecting people’s livelihoods, people are facing threats to life and organised crime groups from home and abroad are operating in the county with large sums of monies changing hands.

“Rural crime cost the UK £49.5 million in 2022 and still on the rise along with the fact people in rural communities do not feel safe in their own homes and businesses.

“So we need to continue this collaborative work to keep making this progress in tackling the issues people are facing with crime in rural communities.”

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NFU Vice President Rachel Hallos said: “The public clearly value the pressing need for action against rural crime2, with nearly three-quarters of the public calling for it to be treated more seriously by the police. We hope our open letter to the newly-elected commissioners will further emphasise the importance this issue holds in many rural communities across the country.

“To tackle rural crime effectively, we are asking PCCs to ensure priorities for addressing rural crime are detailed in their Police & Crime Plan and for the recruitment of a dedicated rural crime specialist. I urge all candidates to meet with their local farmers to truly understand the impact of crimes can have first-hand and commit to tangible plans to better help combat rural crime.”