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Force targets convicted poachers in bid to cut crime

Poachers are being targeted in a bid to cut crime in rural communities. North Yorkshire Police are focusing on known offenders ahead of the peak period of livestock thefts.

In a new operation – Operation Figaro – North Yorkshire Police will be targeting poachers to put a stop to their illegal activity.

With warnings that unemployment is set to rise further, the force has taken the unusual step of targeting people with previous convictions.

About 80% of poaching incidents in the force’s area take place between September and February, typically on open farmland after crops have been harvested. Many offenders travel into North Yorkshire from elsewhere in the region to commit their offences.

So a list of people suspected of being involved in poaching in the past will get a letter from North Yorkshire Police, advising them not to commit further offences in the county. Some will be hand-delivered, to make sure the message hits home.

Launch of the initiative came in the same week as figures from insurance firm NFU Mutual revealed that crime has increased in every rural area of the UK over the past year. The National Farmers’ Union warned it impacted “on the mental health of farmers, their families, and rural communities, as well as the financial burden it causes”.

Countryside campaigners are also pushing for the government to strengthen the deterrents by overhauling outdated legislation. Police and farmers want the penalties for hare coursing to be increased to stop organised gangs and animal welfare supporters want the theft act modernised to reflect the increased value of puppies and working dogs.

Tackling poaching offences is a national policing priority under the National Police Chiefs’ Council Rural Affairs and Wildlife Crime strategies.

The prevalence and violent nature of rural crime has been highlighted by the case of PC Andrew Harper who was killed while trying to prevent a quad bike theft.

Operation Figaro runs alongside Operation Galileo, a national campaign bringing together forces particularly affected by poaching. Forces work together to ensure the issue is dealt with in a co-ordinated way, by sharing information about poachers, and working across force boundaries – for example, on the Selby and Humberside border.

The force will also use WhatsApp groups run by rural residents’ groups to increase the chances of detection.

Inspector Matt Hagen, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “Our officers, some of whom have farming backgrounds, know the terrible impact poaching can have on rural communities. Poachers often have no regard for farmers and landowners, causing thousands of pounds of damage to crops. Victims are often intimidated or even threatened with violence if they challenge offenders, leaving them feeling vulnerable to further crimes, particularly in isolated areas.”

He added: “On top of that, evidence suggests that poaching offenders are also involved in other aspects of criminality – including the organised theft of quad bikes and farm machinery.”

“Officers are working hand-in-hand with local communities. Reports of poaching will be taken extremely seriously, so poachers will find it very difficult to enter and leave North Yorkshire unchallenged.”

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