Concerns raised at lack of progress making arrests for rural crimes

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Concerns have been raised at the lack of arrests made by the PSNI in tackling rural crime in South Tyrone.

Sinn Féin MLA Bronwyn McGahan has expressed her disappointment that after two years of a dedicated farm crime branch having been set up that no one has been arrested in the South Tyrone area over increasing levels of crime against farmers.

Following a Freedom of Information request, Ms McGahan was told that 40 cattle and 24 pieces of major farming equipment – including tractors – have been stolen in the Fermanagh South Tyrone area in a three month period.

However, no arrests had been made during that period of time.

Ms McGahan said: “I am deeply disappointed that despite a dedicated unit within the PSNI no one has been arrested about these crimes and that farms are still being targeted by these criminal gangs.

“We need to see a bigger commitment from the PSNI that they are taking this type of crime seriously.

“The PSNI farming unit consists of only four people of which three are administrators and if we are serious about tackling crime against the farming community then more resources need to be given to this unit.

“It is therefore important we address this issue immediately. A strategy to combat crimes against the farming community must be included in the policing plan.”

She added: “I intend to have the issue raised in both the agriculture and justice committees so that the farming community can go about their business without the fear of being a victim of crime.”

The figures received by Ms McGahan show a total of 40 head of cattle were reported stolen, 36 of which were in the Dungannon South Tyrone area, three in Omagh and one in Fermanagh between October 2014 and January 2015.

There were 24 reports of machinery or related items being stolen.

In response, the PSNI reiterated its commitment to tackling rural crime.

Supt Brian Kee said: “As a police service, we are very aware of the significant contribution that the rural community makes to a successful Northern Ireland. Crime against the farming community is relatively low but we understand the impact that crime against the farming community has on farmers, their families, farm workers, businesses and the wider rural community. It is for that reason that we take it seriously.

“There is no acceptable level of crime in the rural community or indeed elsewhere. And for PSNI, one victim is one too many.

“Every rural community in Northern Ireland has a policing team dedicated to that area.

“The work of local officers is often supplemented by officers from response teams, specialist departments, including the Criminal Investigations Department, Roads Policing and organised crime. Analysts servicing local districts, provide data which is used to inform policing activity and to help ensure that our limited resources are properly directed to where and when they are needed most. Crime Prevention Officers also work locally alongside, officers, stakeholders and community in a bid to address crime in rural communities.

“Crime Prevention Officers and Neighbourhood officers are regularly engaging with the rural community at rural crime prevention events to provide opportunity not only for police to engage with the rural community but also to discuss how farm security can be improved through products such as CCTV, TRACKER, Cesar Datatagging, closed shackle locks etc. These gadgets not only give peace of mind but act as a deterrent to would-be thieves.

“Through organised rural crime prevention events and informal day to day contact with farmers whilst on patrol, officers are continually encouraging farmers and the rural community to report suspicious behaviour and suspicious vehicles.

“Farmers know the rural community better than anyone and know what is normal and what is unusual or suspicious.

“Live time reporting of unusual or suspicious activity significantly enhances our opportunity to prevent and detect rural criminality.

“We understand that Northern Ireland has a large rural population, and our local commanders are tasked with understanding the impact of rural crime on farmers, farm workers and the rural community.

Supt Kee added: “Our work in tackling rural crime is being continued on a daily basis by locally based teams in each district and this will continue as the PSNI continues to change its structures.”