Farmers told a meeting on Friday that some of them are living in fear after being threatened with violence and destruction of property by hare coursers from out of the county who intrude on their land.
The farmers were talking at a meeting between them and police organised by MP Matt Warman. This autumn’s changes to Operation Galileo and subsequent Police attendance at incidents and arrests of hare coursers were the key issues discussed.
The meeting was called by Mr Warman following contact from a constituent who had deep concerns about increasing incidents of hare coursing in the area.
Mr Warman was joined by Police Superintendent Paul Timmins and Chief Inspector Jim Tyner, Gordon Corner of the NFU and Laura Jones from the RSPCA at the meeting at Old Leake Community Centre, which was attended by 50 farmers from across East Lincolnshire.
Under discussion was Lincolnshire Police’s anti-hare coursing operation and the unprecedented increase in incidents of the crime this autumn. The meeting was chaired by NFU county adviser, Gordon Corner.
Farmers raised many issues with the panel, on call centre resourcing, police officer training, the role of PCSOs and the use of social media, or texting to report incidents.
Many farmers have been threatened with violence against themselves, their families and with the destruction of property if coursers are reported
Mr 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. My constituents have told me in detail about their experiences and I know how important it is to tackle this most damaging of rural crimes. I called this meeting to give the police, farmers, growers and the NFU the opportunity to talk about how best to improve Operation Galileo and I will be making sure that the plans we discussed are monitored and deliver real results.”
Mr Corner said: “Overall the meeting was positive. Criticism in the press and media of the inadequate response to calls about hare coursing (see farmers’s complaint here) was countered by the officers (see their reply) who explained that rather than a bespoke small team of officers dealing with hare coursing reports, that all rural-based officers now had a brief to attend calls. Farmers and growers are particularly worried about the slow or sometimes non-existent response to calls to the Police’s call centre using the 101 number.”
NFU group secretary at Spilsby, Philip Odling, reported that incidents did not just occur in daylight hours, but that he had had many reports of coursing at night.
Superintendent Paul Timmins and Chief Inspector Jim Tyner understood the frustrations voiced at the meeting. They admitted that there was an issue with call answering and that things could be better dealt with. However they confirmed that recent results showed that the change in approach to dealing with hare coursing was working: in a four week period, 48 people had been arrested or reported for hare coursing and so far this autumn, nine vehicles had been seized compared to a total of six in 2014.
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. Many had criminal records.
The real impact of hare coursing was brought home by several farmers who told of the fear they felt when coursers invaded their farms. Many farmers have been threatened with violence against themselves, their families and with the destruction of property if coursers are reported. Actual damage and violence has occurred, many farmers now live in fear of the regular incursions on their land.
The officers assured the meeting that if there was a threat or risk to life, then the call would be treated as urgent. They also urged farmers to photograph vehicles and if possible, film at a safe distance, to help provide evidence for a prosecution.
Closing the meeting, Mr Corner summed up the discussions by saying: “We know that policing in Lincolnshire is a balancing act between what resources are available and what is expected of them. Now that we have met the Police both here and in Bourne and will meet again in Spalding this week, we have, perhaps come to an understanding of each other’s positions.
“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.
“We will meet again in September before the next “season” and decide on a plan of action and by then, we hope that there will be better communications or a different way of dealing with farmers’ reports and requests for help and that we can see a reduction in hare coursing in the county.”
Another meeting at Spalding on Wednesday has been arranged for farmers and growers to meet Lincolnshire Police. Assistant Chief Constable Peter Davies, Superintendent Paul Timmins and South Holland and the Deepings MP John Hayes will attend to hear farmers’ concerns about policing in their area.