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Drone investment helps force beat hare coursing syndicates

Investment in drone technology has paid off for a rural crime team with a multiple seizure of off-road vehicles linked to illegal hunting.

Cambridgeshire’s rural crime team has scored a series of arrests and vehicle seizures as part of a winter campaign against offenders involved in illegal hunting and animal cruelty – with drone technology having a major role in the success.

The force revealed a series of arrests over the Christmas period – all involving people from outside the area. The biggest result came from a coordinated operation using a drone to follow offenders who had broken onto farmland.

A spokesman said: “Off roaders were located behind a tree line after they had driven illegally over farmers’ fields, removed a bridleway gate post and driven the river bank. All 4x4s seized.

“Five cars were eventually surrounded and stopped before being seized,” said the spokesperson. Seven people were dispersed from the county and multiple fines and tickets were issued as a result.” 

In a separate incident, officers arrested a man after a 10-mile pursuit of a vehicle linked to hare coursing and lamping. The driver was arrested for multiple offences, the vehicle seized and two other occupants issued Community Protection Warnings. They were also dispersed from the county.

The successes follow the decisions by the force to join Operation Galileo, the national rural crime initiative, and to invest in drone technology.

The initiative followed hundreds of reports of illegal excursions onto farmland by gangs involved in hare coursing in day time and lamping in night time.

Hare coursing involves using hunting dogs such as lurchers to pursue hares and kill them. The offence contravenes hunting laws, usually involves trespass and leaves criminal damage to crops or gates behind.

Lamping involves offenders using high-powered lights after an animal has been chased by dogs. Once drawn into the light it is then shot.

In both offences, people bet on the outcomes as part of organised syndicates.

But the arrests again highlight the weakness of current legislation which has not kept pace with the development of organised criminal hunting involving off-road vehicles.

Just before Christmas, magistrates sentenced two men for hare coursing. They had been caught once but returned to the area and were arrested after a tip-off from the public.

The driver was fined just £240 for daytime trespass in pursuit of game and failing to comply with a section 35 direction excluding a person from an area. 

Cambridgeshire’s successive Police and Crime Commissioners have been among those to call for tougher sentencing.

A briefing from the PCC’s office to MPs warned: “Police Officers only have the Game Act of 1831 which results in the average fine per individual offender being £280. It is vital we bring about a change in the sentencing law so that the penalty better suits the crime.”

The force added: “The issue needs to be addressed by the whole of the criminal justice system.”

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