A new police task force has taken an important step towards achieving the dream of turning Denbighshire into a no-go area for criminals, say farmers' leaders.
The success of the Rural Crime Team set up 18 months ago at the instigation of North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick was celebrated at the Royal Welsh Show.
The effectiveness of the scheme, which has “set a benchmark" for the UK, was discussed when Mr Roddick met with up with leaders of the farming community on the first day of the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells.
A policy chief from the National Farmers Union (NFU) Cymru described it as a “very welcome partnership between the rural community and police”, while a farmer from Anglesey said the team had personally provided him with valuable crime prevention advice.
The Rural Crime Team, comprising a sergeant and five PCs, has homed in on offences as diverse as livestock rustling, theft of farm machinery, badger digging and stealing rare birds eggs.
Since the team was set up by North Wales Police the number of rural incidents has been recorded on a daily basis.
After peaking in October at 116, they have been dropping steadily, with 72 in January, a fall of nearly 40 per cent.
At the Royal Welsh Show, the team came in for high praise from Dafydd Jarrett, North West Wales Policy Adviser from NFU Cymru, who said: “The level of contact between the farming community and the police has improved significantly since it came into existence.
“Farmers are often the eyes and ears in tracking down criminals and the existence of the team gives them confidence that action will be taken if they contact the police with information.
“This is a really welcome initiative and since we have been working so closely in partnership with North Wales Police rural crime has moved right up the agenda.
“Of course, the dream is to make North Wales a no-go area for criminals and this scheme has made an important step towards that.”
One of those who has already benefitted from the expertise of the team is 68-year-old Eifion Huws who has farmed at Bodedern in the west of Anglesey for over 40 years and is a long-standing member of the Farmers’ Union of Wales.
After discussing the Rural Crime Team with the Police Commissioner at the show, he said: “I very much welcomed its introduction 18 months ago and its officers gave me some very good crime prevention advice about a year ago.
“At the time we were having a problem with red diesel being stolen from the farm. I was advised to move the location of the storage tank and to put it under lock and key, which I did and it now seems to have solved the problem.
“Lots of farms are in remote locations and having the team helps give you some reassurance that you are being protected.
“The team has also helped with other things such as setting up a scheme where farmers can text one another if they see a suspicious vehicle on their land, and if stock has been stolen the officers keep an eye on it being offered for sale.”
Heidi Williams, County Executive Officer for the National Farmers’ Union of Wales, said: “I’d like to thank the Rural Crime Team based in North Wales for their excellent engagement with the Farmers’ Union of Wales during the course of the last year.
“We believe that it is important that our members are able to communicate on a one-to-one basis with the rural crime police officers and convey their personal concerns and experiences in the hope of reducing crime within the farming industry.”
PC Dewi Evans, who is a member of the Rural Crime Team with responsibility for policing farming areas around Gwynedd and Anglesey, said: “As far as we are concerned the scheme has been an excellent success.
“We keep detailed statistics for offences in the areas we serve and I think the fact that these have fallen by around 40 per cent between October 2013 and last January is testimony to the team’s success.”
Police Commissioner Winston Roddick said: “The policing of rural crime in North Wales has been transformed in the past 18 months by the effectiveness of the Rural Crime Team.
“That is a result of the excellent partnership working between the team and the rural community, especially farming.
“This is all part of the vision to make North Wales a safe place to live, to work and to visit.”
He added: “During my campaign for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner I visited livestock markets and met farmers and members of the rural communities and without exception they pointed to how much crime was taking place in the countryside.
“These offences ran into millions of pounds and this reinforced the view expressed to me that we should dedicate more resources to combating rural crime.
“Even though the countryside is sparsely populated it contributes an enormous amount to the Welsh economy so it is entitled to effective policing and when I took that to the Chief Constable it was accepted immediately and acted upon immediately.
"Since then the Rural Crime Team has made an excellent start and they are setting a benchmark for the rest of the UK. Their work is attracting a great deal of interest from other forces.”
The team has officers in the West, Central and East divisions and is headed by Sergeant Rob Taylor who is based at Police Headquarters in Colwyn Bay.
Natural Resources Wales is partnering North Wales Police in the venture.
Sergeant Taylor said: “I was the farm liaison officer but there wasn’t a dedicated crime team for the countryside although many years ago there used to be a rural crime officer and a lot of farmers told me they regretted the loss of the position.
“But now we have a real task force and the results speak for themselves and we have had very positive feedback nationally so that we are seen as a benchmark of best practice and have had other forces from England and Wales showing interest in what we do.
“We use intelligence-led policing and make use of data which we analyse so that we put resources where they’re needed and when they’re needed.”
Sgt Taylor added: “The drop in crime is encouraging, however there is still a lot of hard work ahead for the team and our partner agencies.
“This isn’t a solo effort and we rely so much on our farming unions for their support and also our colleagues at the NRW for their invaluable assistance.”