David Sidwick is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.
Conservatives truly understand rural communities and this is never more so than when it comes to combating crime. This government has invested in the first National Rural Crime Unit. A Conservative PCC chairs the National Rural Crime Network – the redoubtable Tim Passmore from Suffolk – which brings together partners to fight rural crime at a National level. But it is those PCCs who are on the ground that can make a difference by having a clear focus on rural crime and holding their force accountable for fighting it.
Rural crime matters – it matters as much as anywhere else and it has components which, now more than ever, are understood. Firstly communities are tight knit and even a single incident can disproportionately cause fear. This needs to be addressed as communities that fear can fray and lose cohesion. Secondly, a lot of crime in our countryside is organised. A tractor or ATV being pinched isn’t the farmer next door and neither is half a flock of sheep being rustled. These are organised crime gangs with facilitators for transport and ultimate sale. This then needs a robust and equally organised and focussed approach.
Looking at it through a local prism – it has always been abundantly clear to me that Dorset is home to immensely proud rural communities, and more could be done to support Dorset’s rural residents. That’s why when I created my Police and Crime Plan for Dorset, I included a priority to Fight Rural Crime. This was different as it articulated clearly a need to invest and deliver for the rural residents of Dorset.
The Rural Crime Team has three main tasks – to address criminality in the countryside, particularly acquisitive crime such as plant, machinery and livestock theft; wildlife theft such as poaching, hare coursing and raptor persecution; and heritage crime.
I am proud to say that the size of the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team has grown fourfold since 2021 with there now being the capacity for 18 members. This has allowed Dorset Police to take the fight against organised crime in our rural communities, identifying organised crime groups, and disrupting and arresting them. With this increase, the team have helped return over £1 million worth of stolen machinery to victims of crime over the last year. This investment and the hard work of the team have been vindicated in a recent national award as the most innovative partnership to tackle serious and organised acquisitive crime. More importantly for the residents of Dorset, this is translating to a real effect as the National Farmer’s Union Mutual annual survey on the cost of crime shows a reduction of 28 per cent.
I have also supported investment into two new vehicles for the Rural Crime Team, a rural crime engagement van and a bespoke 4×4 vehicle, which allows the Rural Crime team to reach more remote areas and rural communities, improving visibility, connectivity and communication between the police and the rural communities they serve.
Our Rural Crime Team has been strengthened massively, not only in terms of its number and in the resources available to them but also in their ability to work effectively with colleagues and partner organisations across the county. Last year, my office established the Dorset Partnership Against Rural Crime (PARC) as a forum for partner agencies to work together to tackle rural crime. So far, the partnership has been working successfully to set up specialist training for police officers, work together to catch offenders of wildlife crime and establish ‘task and finishing groups’ to focus on areas that need better collaboration between agencies.
The team is now also supported by 18 official wildlife officers who have now been trained and are helping to combat wildlife crime across Dorset. So the cruel issues of offences such as poaching, hare coursing and raptor persecution can now be more effectively tackled.
The blight of fly-tipping also is receiving greater focus. Dorset PARC has a committed fly-tipping sub-group to ensure focus on this issue. In February I joined with my counterparts for Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire to pen a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs calling for tougher sanctions to tackle the ‘growing menace’ of fly-tipping. This was picked up by the National Rural Crime Network and other PCCs who supported the initiative resulting in an increase in sanctions and other beneficial changes.
This is not the only activity in which the five PCCs in the SW have come together. We have collaborated to launch a rural crime survey. Dorset police were proud to host the first SW conference on rural crime. The latest joint initiative being a SW Collaboration to tackle organised crime groups targeting our rural communities – Operation Ragwort.
So Conservative PCCs are in the vanguard of fighting rural crime at all levels, nationally, regionally, and where it truly matters locally for our residents and businesses. They invest and ensure change happens – crimefighting is needed everywhere.