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Hare coursing laws toughened in victory for rural crime teams

Hare coursing laws are to be toughened after lobbying from rural crime officers and countryside groups.

Penalties for hare coursing gangs are to be increased, the Home Office has confirmed.

The government has now tabled its own amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Offenders could face up to six months in jail and unlimited fines.

The changes wil also enable police forces to seize more dogs, courts to ban convicted offenders from keeping dogs and to strengthen penalties by lifting the existing limit on fines.

Ministers have effectively adopted an amendment tabled in the House of Lords by the Bishop of St Albans which was due to be debated in the next stage of legislation.

The proposed Home Office changes are:

It follows a sustained lobbying campaign by rural crime officers through their Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners for the outdated poaching laws to be overhauled.

Leicestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Rupert Matthews has been among those calling for changes.

“Not only are these activities barbaric; livelihoods, land and property are being damaged or destroyed in the process. There are also incidents of farmers being threatened and harassed, with many living in fear,” he said.

“It is important this legislation is brought forward swiftly to give police greater powers to respond to these problems without being left out of pocket.”

The changes had been demanded because of the increasingly sophisticated offending which has been driven by illegal betting syndicates including those in the Far East who watch illegal meets on live social media streams.

Operation Galileo was launched by Lincolnshire in response and it was widened into a national initiative.

Forces, including Cambridgeshire, are now routinely deploying drones to catch the gangs red-handed.

But officers are only able to escort offenders out of area, confiscate vehicles if they are not insured or arrest people for offences which carry minimal fines.

Chief Insp Phil Vickers of Lincolnshire, the national lead on hare coursing, warned the people involved have strong links to organised crime gangs and there are multiple groups operating across the country.

“Given the demand hare coursing puts on some forces, it was frustrating how little understanding there was three years ago as to the scale and background of offending and offenders,” he said.

The new legislation follows an initiative led by Cambridgeshire to create a seven-force enforcement partnership so that offenders can be prosecuted out of area.

Farming groups said the new legislation was a huge step forward that would finally give rural police forces and the courts and the necessary powers.

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said: “Our members have had to deal with the impact of illegal hare coursing for far too long.

“I hope this will signal the start of a real crackdown on these organised gangs of criminals who break onto fields to let dogs loose to chase hares, causing huge damage to crops and farm property and intimidating people living in rural communities.”

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