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PCC holds third annual Parish Councils' Conference to discuss policing in rural Bedfordshire now with the largest rural team in the East
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, welcomed the county's Parish and Town Councillors yesterday (13 September) telling them that Bedfordshire now has the largest rural crime team in the whole of the East of England, at her third annual Parish Conference.

All 134 Parish Councils were invited before the school holidays, in early July, to send councillors to attend the meeting at the Central Bedfordshire Council HQ at Chicksands, for the latest of PCC Holloway's annual conferences, meeting a promise in her Police and Crime Plan. The PCC was joined by the Chief Constable, Jon Boutcher, along with other senior members of the Force to discuss issues such as Community Policing, Traveller issues including illegal encampments and hare coursing.

“Before I came into this role, Bedfordshire Police did not even have a single dedicated rural crime officer. Within weeks of becoming PCC, I had agreed with the Force that we should have a specialist Rural Crime Liaison officer, connecting with parishes and farmers in particular, with the National Farmers Union (NFU) keeping a promise to me to provide a rural crime network of contacts to help police. That grew into a business case for a specialist Rural Crime Team which, in the past year, has seen the addition of four new PCSOs. This means it is now the largest such team in the whole of the seven force area of the East, from the northernmost tip of Norfolk to the southernmost tip of Kent,” said the PCC.

She asked Parish Councillors to pass on details of a new, wholly anonymous, crime reporting line set up by the NFU and Crimestoppers on the freephone line
0800 7830137 and website www.ruralcrimereportingline.uk.

The Chief Constable was keen to hear from the councillors and understand the issues they are facing in their parishes and wards as well as explaining the severe limits on the Force’s frontline on one of the lowest budgets in all of policing in England and Wales, despite crime challenges including terror threat, serious organised crime, gang, gun and knife crime and county lines drug dealing, in and out of Bedfordshire to, as well as from, London.

“Bedfordshire Police is a rurally funded Force, despite facing significant metropolitan challenges. Last year, in 2017, we saw unprecedented increases in our 999 calls. On a daily basis we were averaging 350 calls. This year we are in the 600s. We are simply asking for a fairer playing field, so we can increase the number of officers to be on parity with other Forces in the country facing similar challenges,” said Chief Constable Boutcher.  

Senior officers delivered updates on the Force's latest progress in tackling crime with Chief Supt. David Boyle, revealing the Force’s approach to dealing with issues related to the Traveller communities and, in particular, illegal encampments. He explained that Bedfordshire has significant numbers of static sites and this means that, in the summer months in particular, such settled communities are visited by travelling relatives and friends, especially from Ireland. He pointed to the particular difficulty faced by police who cannot use their legal powers to move them on to a Transit Site as none have been provided by councils in the county. This was confirmed by Central Bedfordshire councillors in the audience who support the creation of such a site.

He also confirmed that multiple vehicles have been seized from members of the travelling community as a result of Op Torby this year and that vehicles’ insurance, MOT and other details are constantly checked by officers.

Chief Superintendent, David Boyle, said: “So far this year, we have had a total of 102 encampments and we have been able to utilise Section 61 powers on 14 occasions. Each encampment is subject to a joint assessment by police and the council to establish if Section 61 (police powers) or Section 77 (local authority application to the court for the removal of an unauthorised encampment) criteria is met and we agree on a way forward. This decision is kept under review as part of Operation Wan.

“Central Bedfordshire Council has instructed its Traveller Enforcement Officer and colleagues to identify two transit sites for unauthorised encampments which fall within Central Bedfordshire. The benefit to Bedfordshire Police is that it will then allow the proportionate application of Section 62 of which is a much more robust piece of legislation which we have not been able to visit previously. Our work is much more sustainable and successful when we are working with our partners.”

The panel included Inspector Steve Callow who combines responsibility for the Dunstable Community Hub of problem-solving officers with leading Op Sentinel Rural, Bedfordshire Police’s Rural Crime Team. 

Inspector Steve Callow said: “The Operation Sentinel Rural Crime Team has been working exceptionally hard this year. Operation Torby has yielded significant results: 5000 Speeding warnings, 3 Vehicle prohibition notices, 86 Speeding Offences, 106 Verbal Warnings, 9 Street Cannabis Cautions, 11 Waste Carrier Licence Offences, 22 Arrests, 20 Stop and Searches, 300 Intelligence submissions, 287 Traffic Offences, 127 Vehicle Seizures.

“Our work is seasonal and we are currently engaged in both enforcement and disruption of Hare Coursing in our rural communities. The Rural Crime Team will continue to engage with our rural communities and continue to proactively operate within Bedfordshire. We are developing links with our partners and neighbouring forces to enhance our capabilities and share intelligence. Our aim is simple: To make the Bedfordshire countryside an unwelcome and hostile environment for those who would seek to commit crime in our rural communities. To bring offenders to justice and to protect the most vulnerable residents.”

To contact the Op Sentinel Rural Team, please email:
opsentinel.rural@bedfordshire.pnn.police.uk.

“Parish Councillors absolutely get the need for specialist policing to deal with the particular crime issues which take place in the countryside and are unique to it, such as hare-coursing on which hundreds of thousands of pounds can be being bet illegally and crimes like the theft of red diesel and agricultural plant or associated with illegal hunting or hunt saboteurs. It’s also important for them to know that the travelling community is not beyond the law in Bedfordshire and that illegal vehicles or those without the correct insurance and so on are continuously targeted and seized as there can’t be one law for that community and another for the rest of us,” said the PCC.

All parishes in Bedfordshire were invited to send a representative to the Commissioner's third Annual Parish Council Conference to speak with the PCC and Bedfordshire Police's senior officers. Commissioner Holloway is now visiting Town Councillors around the county and holding both public meetings and surgeries. A full list of current public engagements over the next six months can be found on the Commissioner’s website:
www.bedfordshire.pcc.police.uk/upcoming-engagements.