Law change needed to help tackle rural crime, NFU says

As the cost of rural crime continues to rise, the NFU is urging the government to take action and treat rural crime as a priority issue for rural communities.

At a roundtable meeting between the NFU, Defra, Home Office, police and other rural organisations, the NFU continued to press for legislative change that would make it easier for police to catch and prosecute criminals.

Hare coursers are once again appearing on remote farmland to carry out this illegal activity. Changes to the archaic 1831 Game Act is a simple example of bringing legislation into the 21st Century and making it fit for purpose, the NFU said.

Currently, legislation relating to hare coursing does not consistently give police and courts full seizure and forfeiture powers for dogs and vehicles, which are crucial elements of this illegal activity.

They also cannot recover kenneling costs when dogs have been seized, and fines are capped at low levels. Amending the law on hare coursing to give police and courts these powers would be a significant boost to properly enforcing the law and making it more difficult for criminals to reoffend. 

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said: “The impacts of rural crime are not just simply financial for a farmer, they are emotional and can have long-lasting effects on farming families. We must remember that farms are not just places of work, they are homes too.

“I am consistently hearing from farmers that rural crime is on the rise and getting worse. Whether it is mass hare coursing events or industrial scale fly-tipping, it is clear that organised criminals are behind these acts.

“It’s about time the government gave rural crime the attention that it deserves and it is shameful that one of the crucial laws intended to combat rural crime is centuries old. Simple changes to legislation could give the police the power they need to properly enforce the law and crack down on rural crime.”

NFU chief land management adviser Sam Durham, who attended the roundtable, said: “We heard from the police at the roundtable that the tools at their disposal are simply unsuitable and that there needs to be a change to the law to make a real difference. If there is to be lasting change when it comes to tackling rural crime, it needs to come in the form of legislation that will help the police, not hinder them.

“It has been three years since the NFU highlighted many of these issues in its Combatting Rural Crime Report and many farmers are reporting they have seen little change in that time. We’re pleased that Defra and the Home Office are listening to our concerns but farmers have had enough and want to see meaningful action.”

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