Farmers in Lincolnshire have reported anti-social behaviour, including threats to kill, damage to property, vehicles and crops and trespassing on farmland at recent meetings on hare coursing in the county - however, Lincolnshire Police insists its approach to the crime is working.
A series of meetings, organised by Lincolnshire National Farmers Union, gave the agricultural sector a chance to grill police chiefs and local MPs Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) and John Hayes (South Holland and the Deepings) - particularly in respect to changes to Operation Galileo, the police response to hare coursing gangs in the county.
One farmer, at a meeting at Springfields Events and Conference Centre, said they felt ‘underwhelmed’ by the police response and said they believed the force had not ‘grasped the severity of this issue’.
The farmer said: “How can an activity (hare coursing) that is illegal be allowed to proliferate on the internet for all to consume?
“Right now, we’re under seige while the police are a laughing stock and the community has had enough.”
He told police to up their game because ‘the hare coursers are running rings around you’.
Another farmer added: “The police have no idea what we’re going through and I know a farmer who didn’t attend the meeting because he was too frightened to leave his wife and family at home alone in daylight.
“I’ve lost three-quarters of a stone in weight since this started happening and my family life has been affected by it as well.”
During the meeting at Old Leake Community Centre MP Matt Warman said: “Hare coursing doesn’t just harm land and animals – it brings with it threatening and anti-social behaviour as well as often hardened criminals who have no respect for property, people or the law.
He said plans discussed in the meeting would be ‘monitored and deliver real results’, while MP John Hayes pledged to meet Home Office ministers to look at stiffer fines and other penalties for hare coursing.
The NFU group secretary at Spilsby, Philip Odling, also reported that incidents related to hare coursing did not just occur in daylight hours, but that he had had many reports of coursing at night.
Operation Galileo has recently seen neighbourhood policing teams take over from a dedicated unit of up to seven officers.
On Monday, LincolnshirePolice said that since September 1, 2015, 152 people had been reported for summons to court in connection with hare coursing offences, 13 vehicles seized and another 58 people dealt with for vehicle and/or road traffic matters.
It was revealed at the meetings that coursers seem to come to Lincolnshire from all over the country, with recent arrests of people from Kent, East Sussex, Yorkshire, Teesside and County Durham.
Police insist the figures show, the changes are working with Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies, who leads local policing in Lincolnshire, telling farmers: “I understand the impact hare coursing has on the farming community and the last thing I’d like is for farmers to feel that we’re not interested because we are.
“For the last few years, we’ve had a team of officers who have been the Operation Galileo unit and their task has been to go around the county and sort out hare coursing.
“They did a very good job but a team of six officers, spread across an area of 2,600 square miles, is not going to be able to have an impact on a problem that pops up in areas across the county.”
Superintendent Paul Timmins and Chief Inspector Jim Tyner said threats to life would be taken as urgent calls and urged farmers to photograph vehicles and, if possible, film at a safe distance to help provide evidence for a prosecution.
Other issues raised included issues with on call centre resourcing, police officer training, the role of PCSOs and the use of social media, or texting to report incidents.
NFU county adviser Gordon Corner said: “Farmers and growers now understand that Operation Galileo is on-going and, given time and training, officers will become more used to dealing with hare coursing. Farmers and growers understand, too, that at times their calls may not be at the top of the priority list for police action, given the large number of calls, the variety of crimes and the size of the area that the police operate in.”
Another meeting is set to take place in September of 2016 - prior to the next ‘season’.
l Report hare coursing to police on the non-emergency 101 number or in an emergency call 999.