A £25,000 portable toilet is among items worth an estimated quarter of a million pounds seized by a new police task force set up to tackle rural crime in the Thames Valley.
Inspector Stuart Hutchings, the man in charge of the new 20-officer unit, said the rural crime task force would ‘focus on the offenders’ who make farmers’ lives a misery – and use elements such as the powers of the Proceeds of Crime Act to seize cash and other assets. .
The task force has two drones and can call on its own intelligence team to tackle rural crimes like farm equipment theft, hare hunting and wildlife crime.
Insp Stuart Hutchings of the Thames Valley Police Rural Crime Task Force
“As a force, our neighborhood teams are already doing a great job, but thanks to the rural crime task force, we’re spending that extra time focusing on the offenders, focusing on those hotspots, and then going towards offenders,” Mr Hutchings said.
“We have seized approximately a quarter of a million pounds of assets [since the taskforce’s launch in December]. We seized about 32 different trailers, vehicles and what is interesting about that is that the items we recovered are from over 10 different forces across the country and some of them were stolen there in 10 years.
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“It shows that the business, the market for used trailers and vans is shifting, so it’s really important for us to understand that picture of crime.”
Insp. Stuart Hutchings @RuralCrimeHutch from the Thames Valley Rural Crime Task Force on what you can do *today* to prevent your caravan from vanishing forever if it’s stolen. @TVP_RuralCrime pic.twitter.com/TFDkiYURoQ
—Tom Seaward (@t_seaward) March 1, 2022
The task force could deal with everything from men and dogs traveling the Thames Valley to hunt hares with dogs to organized gangs stealing expensive tractors or farming GPS systems and fencing equipment in Europe or further.
Already officers have seized thousands of pounds of Persian rugs believed to have been stolen, £20,000 worth of chinaware believed to have been funded by a life of crime – and luxury portable toilets discovered near Reading.
Mr Hutchings said of the latter: ‘It didn’t look good, we got into it. The owner had been paid by the NFU, we contacted them and at the end of the day they were coming down [from the North of England] to get it.”
The portable toilet block recovered by Thames Valley Police Image: TVP
Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber, who has promised to focus on rural crime in his plan for Thames Valley Force, said he was ‘very happy’ to see an increase in numbers reported rural crime.
“One of the issues we have is under-reporting. Increasing the number of people reporting a crime is not a bad thing,” he said.
Farmer Alex Nelms, the county’s new chairman of the National Farmers Union, said stolen equipment — and the thieves who take it — are getting more sophisticated.
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“We have agricultural machinery, it is more and more expensive to make our livelihood. For us it’s crops, for others it’s livestock. Things like hare racing can be a real threat.
“It’s getting more and more sophisticated because the things that get stolen are more and more portable.
Alex Nelms of the National Farmers Union
“We hear about equipment being removed and then locked up somewhere while the criminal gang tries to figure out if it’s being tracked or not,” he said. “They are more and more aware.
“A long time ago we used to deal with a burnt out car every two weeks because the systems in the car weren’t very good.
“It’s not just the equipment, it’s the anxiety and the stress when your farm is your home and someone has come into your house to steal something that’s not only valuable but also susceptible. of [affect] your livelihood.
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