Police forces across the South East will be working together to intensify their operations to tackle rural crime this week.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Thames Valley police forces have set up the South East Partnership Against Rural Crime (SEPARC) to ensure co-operation to make the region a hostile environment for countryside offenders.

To launch the new partnership, the forces will be undertaking numerous different operations to target and disrupt wildlife, environmental, heritage and agricultural criminals from Monday 26 February 2024 until Friday 1 March 2024.

Thames Valley Police Assistant Chief Constable Christian Bunt, force lead for rural crime, said:

‘The aim of the SEPARC week of action is to bring forces closer together in tackling all types of rural crime and the offenders committing them.

‘We know criminals use the road networks and docks to transport stolen goods so we will be targeting our operations on those areas, as well as high-visibility patrols and visiting businesses to provide crime prevention advice.’

Rural crime is defined as offences that relate to farms, agriculture, wildlife, the environment and heritage sites, where they are targeted due to their isolation or rural location.

Operations include disrupting offenders alongside the National Rural Crime Team, providing security advice at service stations and stopping suspicious vehicles on the strategic road network.

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber said:

‘Rural crime has a significant impact and can leave our most isolated communities feeling particularly vulnerable.

‘The launch of SEPARC will establish cross-border collaboration between police forces across the South East in tackling the most serious and organised rural crime.

‘Thames Valley Police is already making great strides in driving down incidents of rural crime. The creation of a dedicated Rural Crime Taskforce, supported by additional funding, has been a step change in ensuring Thames Valley Police has a visible and robust response to rural crime.

‘The creation of SEPARC reinforces Thames Valley Police’s commitment to protecting our rural communities and will further strengthen the impact of our Rural Crime Taskforce in pursuing offenders.’

Sussex Police’s lead for rural crime, ACC Howard Hodges, said:

‘The main purpose of this partnership is to protect our rural communities and to make the region a hostile environment for criminals.

‘We will continue to work together with our neighbouring forces to share information and intelligence, to ensure we can prevent, detect and respond to rural crime wherever possible.

‘We will also engage with residents, businesses and visitors in our rural areas to offer crime prevention advice.

‘We cannot be everywhere all the time, and that’s why we need the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to us. In an emergency, always dial 999.’

Rural Policing Lead for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary, ACC Lucy Hutson, said:

‘Rural crime has an enormous impact on those effected, as it often sees local businesses suffer serious financial loss, and can destroy the livelihoods of hardworking farmers.

‘We are fortunate to have some of the most beautiful parts of the country on our doorstep in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and it’s so important that people can live in, work in and visit our rural spaces without fear of being targeted by criminals.

‘Our dedicated Country Watch officers work closely with other policing teams across the two counties all year round to tackle seasonal crime trends, provide support to victims, and relentlessly pursue offenders blighting the countryside.

‘This week of action gives us the opportunity to utilise the skills and expertise of specialist policing teams from our neighbouring forces, to bring the fight to criminals who operate across county borders in the South East.’

Head of Prevention at Kent Police, Superintendent Pete Steenhuis, said: “Tackling rural crime is a priority for Kent Police and we recently increased the size of our Rural Task Force to ensure we can continue to provide a high quality service, supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice.

‘We regularly work with our neighbouring forces across the South East to ensure a joined-up approach and look forward to achieving further positive outcomes as a result of this week of action. Criminals do not recognise county borders so it is important that we work together in this way to represent the best interests of residents, businesses and visitors to our rural communities.’

Rural Crime Inspector for Surrey Police, Inspector Darren Benge, said:

‘Rural crime is not just an issue for those who live in the countryside. It is a matter of national importance encompassing food security, bio-threats, and serious organised crime groups, and it is something that myself and my small but passionate team are dedicated to tackling.

‘Here in Surrey our commitment is to build and maintain trust and confidence of the rural community in the police. We know that rural crime is under-reported in the county, yet many of our community say that they do not feel safe in their own homes. No one should be made to feel this way, and we have pledged to visit the home of every member of the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) in Surrey to provide reassurance and a visible policing presence to our rural residents.

‘Rural crime is borderless, which is why I’m so glad to be working with our partner forces across the region. By working together collaboratively in this way I am confident that we can address the issues and offenders that we all have in common and find solutions that will make the southeast a safer place for our rural community to live and work.’

By Ed

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