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It’s the start of the hare coursing season and we’ve teamed up with neighbouring forces to combat this vicious crime.
Our Rural Engagement Team met with rural colleagues from Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk at the Audley End Estate near Saffron Walden to share information and discuss tactics to tackle the cruelty of hare coursing and the organised crime groups which profit from it.
Together with Hertfordshire, Kent and Norfolk, the seven forces in the Eastern Region pledged a year ago to work across policing borders and launched Operation Galileo to do exactly that.
Incidents of hare coursing across Essex and the other six force areas dropped to 1,415 in 2021-22 from 2,044 in 2020-21 – a fall of almost a third (31%).
Of course, there is still more to be done and the forces’ rural crime teams this year are working with the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter and using drones to improve their ability to spot hare courses in action.
“Operation Galileo shows that we are stronger together and during this coursing season we will be working more closely with NPAS to ensure that rural officers will be in the right place at the right time to catch the bad guys.
“Hare coursing happens in very rural, isolated areas and the helicopter crew or a drone can pinpoint suspects in fields and woodland, identify escape routes and then follow those responsible. Basically, they can direct officers on the ground to intercept the vehicles or people so officers can deal appropriately with any offences.
“We already have off-road capability and other vehicles to deal with offenders if they fail to stop for police but the addition of the helicopter to our drone capability is a valuable addition to our fleet.
“And, of course, we work closely with farmers, gamekeepers and estate staff, not only to locate those responsible but to advise on action they can take to prevent hare coursers being able to access their land in the first place.
“Hare coursing is cruel but there is also the huge cost to farmers and landowners when damage is caused to land, crops and furniture belonging to the land owner, when the land has just been seeded or the crops have just started to grow, it is at its most vulnerable as it's not strong enough to withstand being driven across, which compacts the ground and destroys the soil structure.
"This can’t easily be rectified and on occasions this action causes thousands of pounds worth of damage which the land owner has to foot the bill for.
PC Matt Harkness, of our Rural Engagement Team
“Rural communities are isolated and therefore feel very vulnerable when they are exposed to any type of crime but particularly things such as hare coursing, which can be accompanied by violence and intimidation of witnesses.
“So this ‘show of strength’ from rural policing teams across the region is aimed at providing reassurance while showing criminals that we mean business when it comes to keeping our communities safe and tackling crimes which affect them.”
Uttlesford Community Policing Team Sergeant Claire Bailey
Tom White is the Audley End Estate’s resident agent. He says it is so important for rural communities to work with the police to combat hare coursing and other rural crime.
“It’s the threat to farmers, gamekeepers and estate staff as well as to property. The attacks and vilification which come from hare coursers is a constant pressure.
“People living in remote areas don’t always know who’s about or what they are up to and criminals know this. There’s always the fear of retaliation so support from the police is such a reassurance.
“The sight of all the police officers, their vehicles and the helicopter ready to act on reports of hare coursing and other crime is such a huge lift for everybody.
“Cross-border co-operation is crucial to combat this barbaric crime and the people associated with it.”
Audley End Estate resident agent Tom White
After the meeting, our rural engagement team went out on patrol surrounding villages stopped three people on suspicion of trespassing in pursuit of game.
All three were initially detained and searched under the Poaching Prevention Act 1862. Then two men, aged 39 and 25, from London, were interviewed on suspicion of having committed offences under section 30 of the Game Act 1831. Officers also seized their vehicle.
A 14-year-old boy with them will be interviewed at a later date when an appropriate adult is present. The trio were stopped as they walked across crop fields, accompanied by four dogs. Our investigation continues.
The seven forces of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk linked up in September 2021 to remove policing borders when certain tactics are used. This has made catching and prosecuting offenders easier.
The agreement, completed with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, means the forces become one when using certain powers, such as community protection warnings & notices and criminal behaviour orders.
They also share information about automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), the seizure of dogs and all interactions and movements of people suspected to be involved in hare coursing.
Hare coursing traditionally begins in September or October - depending on the weather - when crops have been harvested and ploughed, making them the perfect ground for the illegal blood sport.
Hare coursing causes damage to crops, harms animal welfare and threatens rural communities. It can result in intimidation and even violence.
Landowners are urged to consider blocking entrances to their fields with ditches, fencing or trees or even barriers like barrels filled with concrete.
If you see hare coursing taking place, ring 999 immediately and provide as much information as you can – for example, a What3Words location, a description of the people involved, vehicle registration numbers, vehicle descriptions and the location and direction of travel.
When the police give you a reference number, please put this and the day’s date into any WhatsApp groups you are a part of so that anyone in the area with information can ring us and we can link it to the same incident, if relevant.
However, it is very important that you don’t confront hare coursers or put yourself at risk.
If you see anything which you feel needs police attention, or you have information about a crime or criminal activity, always ring 999 if it is an emergency or a crime in progress.
Otherwise you can report it online where you can also speak to an online Live Chat operator between 10am and 9pm. Alternatively, you can ring 101.
You can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, online or by calling 0800 555 111.
For more information and advice on rural crime visit our Rural Crime webpages.
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