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Herts joins Operation Galileo to tackle rural gangs

Hertfordshire Police has become the latest force to join the national operation against poachers.

Officers from Hertfordshire are joining Operation Galileo, the cross-border campaign being co-ordinated by Lincolnshire Police.

Hertfordshire’s Rural Operational Support Team (ROST) will be joining the operation later this year following the appointment of a new sergeant to the team. ROST is the Constabulary’s specialist team which focuses on rural and agricultural issues, wildlife crime and heritage crime.

It means the operation is now bringing together 13 forces most affected by poaching and hare coursing gangs. Among the forces involved is North Yorkshire.

Sergeant Ryan Hemmings took over his role on the team earlier this month. He will be helping the team with training other officers from his force to ensure they are up to date on legislation changes as well as preparations for the launch of Galileo.

Although the county is located close to London and has plenty of urban commuter areas in its boundaries, it also has significant rural areas which have seen an increase in criminal activity.

Data from the National Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Society revealed rural crime doubled in the county during 2017.

Sergeant Hemmings said: “There is often the perception that policing is more town centre-focused and that rural communities feel isolated and left behind. I want to make sure we’re engaging with these people, to reassure them that we understand the issues they face and are committed to supporting them as much as their urban counterparts.”

Working with non-government organisations is critical to the ROST team, he said.

“Partnership working is key to this and I am looking forward to continuing to build on our strong links with agencies such as the National Famers’ Union and the Country Land and Business Association'', he said.

Operation Galileo was launched last year by Lincolnshire Police is response to a huge increase in illegal hare coursing run by professional gangs who damages crops and property. Landowners who try to intervene are intimidated by the gangs. The gangs are also involved in other crimes and target farms that try to prevent illegal coursing meets.

The forces involved share information and intelligence and mount joint prosecutions where possible.

Lincolnshire is utilising technology as part of the campaign: the National Crime Agency is supporting its data work to identify locations and prolific offenders and the force is also using drones to monitor sites plus the What3Words app for calls from the public.

The work is paying off. The force revealed earlier this month that the  number of incidents had been reduced in the county. At the half-way point there had been 535 incidents reported down from the high of 1,965 incidents in 2016.

North Yorkshire joined Galileo after it recorded 1,561 incidents between August 2016 to July 2017, mainly involving offenders who had travelled from across the country to the Hambleton and Selby districts.

The force is targeting vehicles previously linked to poaching on its own and national databases.

Intelligence gathering – which also involved volunteers from the areas targeted by the gangs – is crucial according to Lincolnshire police.

In his most recent update Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, the Lincolnshire’s lead for rural crime, said: “We are targeting the offenders who cause greatest harm to our rural communities by sharing information and intelligence across the whole of the UK.

“The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) have been supporting our analytical work, and we are in a position to use legislation against the key offenders in a way that has not been done before.”

He added: “As Operation Galileo has a national footing, this offers more opportunities to use technology and stop offenders before they reach our fields – we will seize their vehicles, cash and property whenever and wherever the law allows.”

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