New figures suggest crime in rural areas may have cost more than £800 million last year.
Taken from a survey by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) – which consists of police and crime commissioners, rural groups and national crime prevention charities – involving 17,000 people, the figures are 21 times higher than originally estimated, and include a rise in thefts of items which rural communities depend on for their livelihood, such as livestock and farm machinery. The results of the poll were discussed in parliament by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services on 15 September.
The numbers either call into question statements by the Home Office which claim crime has fallen by 25% since 2010 or suggest that the reduction in crime reported is not apparent in the countryside. Former rural police officer Mike Pannett told BBC Countryfile Magazine that he was “not at all surprised” by the figures, since extensive police cuts mean “urban areas have had to pull police officers in from rural communities to fill the gaps.”
An estimated 17,000 police officers were lost between 2010 and 2015, and a further 22,000 are set to go by 2020, leaving Britain with “the lowest numbers of officers since the 1970s”, The Guardian says. Pannett adds to that a decrease in “35,000 civilian police staff” but, speaking to BBC Countryfile Magazine, says the saddest consequence of these cuts is that “rural police officers are no longer the golden thread connecting the community together. Officers used to have their fingers on the pulse and people knew who to contact. Now there is a reduction of officers engaging with the community and people are having to fend for themselves.”
“Lack of confidence” in rural police
News that one in four rural crimes go unreported “reflects a lack of confidence in the police force that breaks my heart”, Pannett says. The survey also recorded that only 39% of people in rural areas rated the police as good or excellent, compared with 63% across England and Wales.
Many rural crimes may seem too small to report – such as a £50 padlock being cut off, or a diesel supply being tapped. Fear of ever-increasing insurance policies is also a concern for many victims.
But adequate reporting is crucial to police efficiency, not just between victims and the police, but nationally between forces. “Intelligent gangs work across borders and go where they see a gap,” Pannett explains. “Good communication across the community is vital and with further cuts expected communities need to stick together.”
So what can you do to protect yourself in the countryside?
Always report the crime, no matter how small; police need all the information they can get, even if it’s just about a suspicious-looking vehicle
Deter thieves: install alarm systems on outbuildings and to diesel tanks and ensure there is good lighting throughout your property; fit tracker devices to machinery and mark machinery, plants and vehicles in a bright colour to make them more distinguishable
Be vigilant: keep a regular watch on flocks and machinery; sometimes farmers don’t know whether 200 sheep were stolen yesterday or two weeks ago, and police need information to be as up-to-date as possible
Build a community: communicate with your neighbours and fellow citizens, whether down the pub or in a designated rural crime support group, of which there are many throughout the UK. The NRCN offers advice on how to get involved here.
Words by Agnes Davis