"We can't ignore rural communities" pledge as Rural Crime Roadshow goes on tour

This week and next a special roadshow is travelling across central and west Lancashire. It is part of the fight back against rural crime. PC  Paddy Stewart tells Fiona Finch why he believes such crime affects everyone.

By Fiona Finch
Friday, 1st October 2021, 4:55 am

Who said life in the country was quiet?

From fly tipping to vehicle theft the countryside can be afflicted by crime as much as any other area.

But some of those crimes, ranging from badger baiting and hare coursing to tractor and GPS system theft, are particular to rural areas.

The South Rural Taskforce team is tackling rural crime Photo: Neil Cross

This week and next a show with a difference is on the road aiming to put rural crime and how to tackle it centre stage.

Rural, Wildlife and Heritage Crime Officer PC Paddy Stewart said : “Seventy-four per cent of Lancashire is rural so it’s important to us that we police these areas effectively.”

He and the South Rural Taskforce team will be taking their Rural Crime Roadshow to several villages, giving general advice about crime prevention and providing the opportunity to get property ranging from GPS systems and tractors to bicycles and bags, security marked.

It is also an opportunity for local rural residents and businesses to raise their concerns with the Constabulary.

Rural, Wildlife and Heritage Crime Officer PC Paddy Stewart Photo:Neil Cross

The South team is one of five new rural teams serving the county. In total there are 20 police staff and a civilian coordinator on the taskforce, which also deals with heritage crime - against historic buildings, churches, monuments and areas of special scientific interest, (SSSI). Such crimes also include metal detecting on heritage sites.

PC Stewart said: “We want communities to tell us what their issues and concerns are so we can actively work to address them.“

He acknowledges some of the crimes are seasonal and says the flexibility of the new county taskforce, which was set up earlier this year, means officers can be deployed where needed if an urgent case arises.

He said: “In December we might have an issue with hare coursing. It’s seasonal between August and March. We have a lot of issues with illegal hare coursing in the West Lancashire area.”

Marking equipment at the Tarleton roadshow on September 30

The PC said many hare coursers did not recognise it is now illegal, (since 2004) and they came from a wider area with strong memories of the now defunct Waterloo Cup gatherings.

The other crime of trespassing on land in pursuit of game has been outlawed since 1832. There have been cases of intimidation of farmers and workers. Noting also how the slaughter of hares by dogs is deeply upsetting, he said: “They scream like babies. It’s quite distressing.”

He described how after identifying that coursing is going on, colleagues can be called in to surround a field, a drone can be sent up to get further evidence and vehicles and property can be seized.

In May a “landmark conviction” was secured against poacher Daniel Ratchford 36, of Wigan after a joint operation with Merseyside Police and the RSPCA.

A farmer visits the roadshow

Ratchford was banned from large areas of West lancashire and Sefton and given a suspended prison sentence and a Criminal Behaviour Order for poaching offences on private farmland, including allowing his Lurcher-cross dogs to kill wild rabbits and hares.

Trespass on land also raises other issues: “If a lot of hare coursers come into your leek crop (for example) they either damage the crop or you’ve to get rid of it because it’s contaminated.This will hit the whole food chain.”

Similarly higher insurance costs because of, for example, tractor theft, impacts a farmer’s production costs and will therefore impact food costs. He said: “If you nick a GPS system off a farmer that will affect them for weeks. The GPS system on a tractor allows them to do precision farming. It means they can get the best yield out of crops and work in the most effective way. It impacts the whole community.”

Livestock worrying has also impacted during lockdown as more people have turned to the local countryside for walks. Issues have he said mostly been dealt with by “community resolution” with the dog owner paying the full cost of stock losses and the issuing of notices which demand they muzzle their dog when out walking.

PC Stewart continued: “A big one for us has been animal welfare - we all have a very keen interest in the welfare of animals as I think anybody should. We dealt with a farmer who was struggling quite badly - all the livestock, we seized them all. The vast majority we’ve dealt with have been domestic cases.”

Nighthawking is another issue: “There are some people who go metal detecting around ancient sites and take (their finds). It’s obviously a crime against the county’s heritage.”

Tractors are a target for criminals

Looking back over recent years PC Stewart said: “With the cuts and everything else I think the rural communities were probably let down by the police.”

He said the proof of demand for the new rural service is evident:”Just for my team the South Task Force we’ve attended well over 300 to 400 incidents, we’ve recovered 170 stolen vehicles and pieces of plant or equipment valued at over £1m. We’ve prosecuted 60 offenders and we’ve closed down three chop shops (breakers’ yards)...We can’t just ignore rural communities.”

Roadshow Times, Dates and Locations

The Roadshow will be at the following locations from 10am to 3pm:

• 2nd Oct – Rivington Lane carpark, also known as Noel House Car park, Rivington, Chorley

• 4th Oct –Corner House,Wrightington Bar, Wigan • • 5th Oct – Duxbury’s, Chain House Lane, Whitestake, Preston

• 6th Oct - St. Andrew’s Church Hall Car Park, Liverpool Road, Longton, Preston

• 7th Oct – Whittingham sports and social club, Old Whittingham Hospital Grounds, Whittingham

Anyone wishing to contact the South Rural Taskforce team can email [email protected]

* The Taskforce was set up in March 2021. Lancashire Constabulary says it is:”intended to provide extra resources to target, disrupt and address crime in rural communities. “

For details of all teams see Constabulary website.

*Owners must provide proof of ownership before property can be marked.

For details of Daniel Ratchford's conviction see here* The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.