Weald of Kent residents may recall a campaign I launched in Cranbrook in July 2021 to address rural crime and antisocial behaviour, working alongside the police, local councillors and other stakeholders. Work continues in that mission and most recently our attentions have been focused on one particular group of people who are being seriously affected - our Wealden farmers.
A special round-table meeting was held in Chart Sutton Village Hall at the end of January, instigated by Marden farmer and Borough Councillor Claudine Russell, and hosted by me and my neighbouring Kent MP Helen Whately. Together with 40 people from the police, Maidstone Borough council, the Police and Crimes Commissioner (PCC) and several Weald of Kent farmers, we gathered to hear of their experiences and to work together on tackling the issues.
A typical incident was described by one farmer who confronted two men who were pheasant poaching on her land. One had a shotgun, the other a catapult loaded with a ball bearing, both accompanied by a menacing Staffordshire bull terrier. When asked to leave, they were very aggressive, refused to go and threatened violent recriminations from the hands of their family if they were reported.
When the farmer did call the police, the two of them paid no heed to possible consequences, knowing that it would take at least an hour for an officer to turn up – if at all. The consensus from all famers at the meeting was that the 101 number was useless for these circumstances and 999 is not much better.
Other issues raised included the theft of high value farm equipment, the effect on annual insurance premiums and regular fly tipping using vehicles known to have no insurance.
By way of a response, Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said that 195 more police officers were being recruited for Kent, all of them going onto ‘The Beat’, and that every ward will have a named police officer attached.
The Rural Task Force will also be expanded, and 101 wait times will be reduced by increasing resources and investment in the call centres. The PCC further pledged to hold the police to account on any crimes that were not adequately followed up. These actions will benefit the whole local rural community, not just farmers.
By way of some immediate remedial action I have written to Edward Argar MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, to explore how existing legal deterrents can be reinforced, perhaps with heavier sentencing, and seeking the re-categorisation of catapults as offensive weapons, to allow police a right of confiscation among other things.
If readers witness or suffer such crimes and behaviour, please report it. If there’s no follow-up let me have your crime reference number and I will take it up with the PCC. For more guidance have a look at the back page of my leaflet, first published in July 2021 my leaflet, first published in July 2021 – here.