Rural Crime Taskforce wins award for tackling serious and organised crime in Thames Valley

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In just over a year, it has recovered £1.2 million pounds’ worth of machinery, tools and equipment

Thames Valley Police’s Rural Crime Taskforce has won a Thames Valley Police Federation Excellence Award for its outstanding work in tackling serious and organised rural crime.Rural crimes are offences that relate to farms, agriculture, wildlife, the environment and heritage sites, which are often targeted due to their isolation. Crimes range from harm to animals to the theft of vital equipment, causing distress and hardship to farmers who rely on their land and machinery for their livelihoods.The Rural Crime Taskforce, which consists of an inspector, two sergeants, 10 PCs, two dedicated intelligence officers and a rural crime coordinator, was formed in March 2022 with the aim of creating a hostile environment for those who commit rural crime. In just over a year, it has recovered £1.2 million pounds’ worth of machinery, tools and equipment.Insp Stuart Hutchings, who heads up the taskforce, said: “We cover everything that affects the rural community, including thefts and night-hawking from local historic areas, environmental crimes like fly-tipping, up to the industrialised dumping of waste, which is run by organised crime groups.

"We also deal with wildlife crime – everything from hare coursing to poaching, and we’re even investigating an individual who has brought whale teeth into the country to sell.

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“In the first quarter of last year, there was a 40 per cent rise nationally in thefts from farms and agricultural industries.

Members of the Thames Valley Rural Crime TaskforceMembers of the Thames Valley Rural Crime Taskforce
Members of the Thames Valley Rural Crime Taskforce

"If someone’s brand new Porsche got stolen, everyone understands that it’s a £50,000 car, it’s got an index plate, a vehicle identification number. But if a tractor gets stolen, which could be worth £150,000, very few people would know how to identify it.

"All of the team are trained to identify plant and farm machinery, stolen caravans, etc. They’ve got the right equipment to do that. The biggest thing we’ve found is a £250,000 quarry machine, stolen from Newcastle.”Officers work closely with drone units and the Joint Operations Unit with Hampshire. Rural crime often links into organised crime, and the Rural Crime Taskforce works alongside the Economic Crime Unit to look into the proceeds of crime and money laundering.

Another focus for the taskforce is engagement with rural communities, and it has provided crime prevention advice to hundreds of residents.In February 2023, the taskforce won a prestigious national award from the Construction Equipment Association and was named the most proactive rural crime team in the UK.Insp Hutchings said: “I’m really proud that the team is winning this Federation Award and getting the recognition for all their hard work. This is a real joint effort.”Thames Valley Police Federation chair Craig O’Leary said: “These officers have worked tirelessly to recover a huge amount of stolen goods and stop criminals in their tracks.

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"Through a proactive approach to tackling rural crime, we’ve been able to gain intelligence into organised gangs and make a real difference to local farmers and residents.”Representatives of the team will be presented with their award at the 2023 Thames Valley Police Federation Bravery Awards on Thursday, April 27.