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Crimestoppers turns focus on rural crime as costs pass £43m

Crimestoppers are launching their biggest-ever rural crime campaign to protect agri-businesses, wildlife and historic sites.

The national crime reporting scheme is ramping up work to help rural crime teams tackle the rise of organised crime gangs targeting vulnerable sites and businesses.

Crimestoppers has launched the biggest national rural crime campaign in its history with an appeal for anonymous information on hare coursing gangs, wildlife killers and thieves.

The initiative follows reports from rural crime teams and the main insurer of farming businesses that offenders have switched tactics during lockdown to target homes and firms in the countryside.

In the year to April 2021, Crimestoppers received nearly 2,700 anonymous reports about rural crime. It’s a 14% increase on the year before but the charity warned  there is significant under-reporting.

Mark Hallas, Chief Executive at the charity, said: “Every day we hear from people who are in the know about those involved in damaging our beautiful countryside, but there is so much more we can do.”

Rural crime teams that are part of the Operation Galileo initiative warned last month that hare coursing gangs have become more sophisticated and are making money by livestreaming meets to international gambling syndicates.

And last week Dorset Police warned heritage crime is now a huge issue as thieves target shipwrecks, ancient ruins and period properties to steal valuable artifacts.

Insurers last month revealed offenders are using online maps, social media and surveillance to steal quad bikes and the sat-nav systems now fitted to harvesters.

The cost of agricultural vehicle theft reported to NFU Mutual remained at over £9m during the last year.

The total bill for rural thefts was £43.3m last year despite lockdown.

The month-long awareness campaign will highlight illegal game hunting, fly tipping and plant machinery theft.

It will reveal how the public can spot signs of hare coursing and wildlife trapping – and how to report it.

Mr Hallas said: “A team of professionals working at our charity’s UK Contact Centre anonymise all information received – to ensure the person giving the details is never identified - before passing it on to police to investigate.

“Working together, we can help protect our precious countryside and rural environment, communities and business from the harm caused by these criminal gangs.”

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said rural criminals were evolving: “While lockdowns may have kept some criminals out of the countryside – rural crime hasn’t gone away. Gangs are now returning armed with new tactics.”

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