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Durham rural WhatsApp groups help detain arson suspects

It’s part of a voluntary scheme that has been going for over four years.

Durham Constabulary has managed to detain two suspects for arson in less than 40 minutes thanks to the help of real time intelligence via a community WhatsApp chat.

For a number of years, rural communities across Teesdale, Weardale and Middleton-in-Teesdale have been using the messaging platform to share information and help the Constabulary.

The chats are run, managed and “policed with a small ‘p’” by community members – and although monitored by officers (voluntarily and via personal phones), it’s not a method of reporting crime nor do Durham lead the initiative. 

Inspector Ed Turner previously told Police Oracle that it’s all about sharing information but that it does not replace official reporting channels. That said, local neighbourhood teams can look back and monitor messages to identify opportunities for ring backs and intelligence gathering.

If something of concern is mentioned on the group, the admin can take charge and call 101 or 999.

Last Friday, the Constabulary received reports of a barn on fire - two suspects had been spotted fleeing the scene on foot.

Call handlers in the control room sent a message to the Teesdale Rural Watch WhatsApp group. Thanks to real-time intelligence coming in from members on the chat, the force drone was able to follow the suspects while the officers travelled to the scene.

Two suspects were subsequently detained within 37 minutes of the first 999 call.

Aged 12 and 15 they were arrested on suspicion of arson – enquiries are ongoing.

Insp Turner said: “Once again our Rural Watch members have demonstrated how effective this type of real-time intelligence is and are paving the way for helping us to help them.”

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