Rural crime still a focus in lockdown


Criminals planning to take advantage of the current lockdown to commit offences in rural areas are finding that their activities are more likely to come to the attention of countryside communities.

Three men were arrested near High Hurstwood in the Wealden district recently when police were alerted to a suspicious car in the area. The men were found crawling along a hedgerow and after running off from officers were arrested on suspicion of burglary and going equipped for burglary.

Detective Chief Inspector Alasdair Henry, Wealden district policing commander and Sussex Police's lead on business burglary, said: "This incident demonstrates that by working together, increasing vigilance and awareness, we can make a difference and we do act positively on any intelligence we receive. If you see anyone or anything suspicious in your area, please report it to us.

"Rural PCSOs are continuing their proactive work, liaising with farmers and countryside businesses, offering rural crime prevention advice and offering property marking, including delivering property marking tools along with instructions on how to use them.

"We have also increased our high-visibility patrols around rural beauty spots and areas popular with people taking their lockdown exercise as these can also be attractive to opportunistic thieves.

"Additionally, we are liaising with partners including the National Farmers' Union and the Country Land and Business Association in association with the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, to consult with farmers to ensure that they are being supported by police and to give them the opportunity to inform us of what is going on locally to them."

Recruitment continues and more rural officers will be taking up their roles over the next few months as part of the overall precept investment plan.

Sergeant Tom Carter, operational lead for rural and wildlife crime, has appealed to people visiting the countryside to respect the rural environment.

"As the weather improves, we are seeing an increase in the number of people out and about in rural areas and, probably as a result of current restrictions, many of these may not be so used to visiting the countryside.

"This has prompted an increase in the number of reports from farmers and landowners about people disregarding the Countryside Code, not observing footpaths, walking across crops, leaving gates open and in some cases, being abusive when challenged.

"Sheep worrying by dogs is an on-going problem and with thousands of new lambs in particular across the county, I would urge dog walkers to keep their animals on a lead and under control at all times while around livestock. Your normally docile pet can turn into a bloodthirsty killer in a moment and a farmer can legally shoot a dog that is chasing livestock.

"We are also aware that there are some anglers out there who are fishing, sometimes illegally, during the lockdown period. The Angling Trust is lobbying to have fishing included among the activities that may be permitted when Covid-19 restrictions start to be lifted, but for the time being it is not a reasonable excuse to be at the water's edge."

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, who has been leading on a series of virtual consultations with the local farming community said: “Rural crime continues to be a priority for me and I want to ensure that our more remote communities have a voice in policing through the Covid crisis and beyond.

“Now that the countryside is relatively empty due to ‘lockdown’, making it more susceptible to criminality, local farmers have reported an increase in fly tipping, hare coursing and equipment theft.

“I’m pleased to see Sussex Police are encouraging vital intelligence sharing within this community and are still working hard to crackdown on these types of crimes.

“Plans for an expanded rural crime unit are well underway thanks to extra investment into the Force this year and I know that this will make a huge difference to our farming communities.”

To find out how you can protect yourself and your property, visit our crime prevention advice pages.

You can report any offences or suspicions online or call 101, but if it is an emergency or a crime is occurring there and then, dial 999 immediately.