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Volunteers celebrate 25 years fighting rural crime

Farmwatch June 2014

PCC Ron Hogg presenting large cheque at Farmwatch event

Volunteer celebrate 25 years fighting rural crime

Volunteer crime fighters from rural County Durham met this week to celebrate 25 years of patrolling the countryside in support of their communities and local police. The Wear and Tees Farm Watch was established in 1989 in response to rural crime at the time and is believed to be the oldest scheme of its kind in the UK.

Members gathered at the Marwood Social Centre near Barnard Castle on Monday night to mark the historic occasion and were met by supporters and guests including Chief Constable Mike Barton and Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg.

Officers from Durham believe this farm watch is the biggest and best in the country. In 2012 it won the national award for “top rural watch scheme”, has 800 members across Weardale and Teesdale and boasts a bank of 70 volunteers who regularly work with officers on night time operations.

Over the last eight years the neighbourhood policing teams in the two dales have expanded the operations into major cross border events working with five other forces who are forging their own rural volunteer schemes.

Recent Farm Watch operations have included up to 250 volunteers and officers from across Durham, Cumbria, Cleveland, Northumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire. The farmers attend police briefings and are deployed across the landscape with their own radio systems acting as the eyes and ears of the Constabulary. A voice connect telephone system delivers message updates to the wider network of 800 people and the whole process drives good visibility, familiarity and reassurance across rural communities.

Present at the celebration were Peter Stubbs and his wife Gladys from Teesdale, and John Bradshaw from Weardale. All three are founder members and 25 years ago started night patrols with a band of rural supporters.

“In those days there were no mobile phones so we had to drive to kiosks or knock on farm doors to get messages to the police”, said Peter.

“Now we have modern radios, the voice connect system and new ideas emerging which are all helping us work more closely with the police”.

In 2009 Peter and Gladys were given the unusual distinction of being granted a Chief Constable’s commendation for their time and dedication. At that 20 year point they had clocked up 9000 hours of work in support of Farm Watch.

During the 25 years it has been running, Farm Watch operations have led to arrests, the recovery of property and the gathering of good intelligence. In a key highlight eighteen years ago the farmers were part of Operation JEDI, a major cross border operation. Information, sightings and evidence from members helped the police carry out dawn raids and secure prison sentences for a team of criminals from the Bishop Auckland area who were charged with conspiracy to steal motor vehicles.

Chief constable Mike Barton praised those present at the event on Monday for their determination in giving their time freely and helping to keep the countryside safe. Commissioner Ron Hogg handed over a cheque for £4000 to support this initiative. Farm Watch has charity status and the money will be used to buy or repair radios and to source new equipment and other expenses.

Mr Hogg said: “This scheme is an excellent example of best practice in the region and I am committed to recognise and respond to rural crime issues and to work in partnership with rural communities”.

Neighbourhood Inspector Kevin Tuck added: “I’ve been a part of the planning and cross border operations for ten years and I don’t think there is a better Farm Watch scheme in the land. I’m always impressed that farmers, game keepers and people who live in the countryside are prepared to do their day’s work then support us in the way that they do. The nights of action give us the chance to catch more criminals and to drive confidence in what we do.”

Farm Watch continue to look for funding opportunities and donations can be made via UTASS (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services) based at Middleton-in-Teesdale. Anyone interested in joining the operations can contact PCSOs Liz Finn and Tracy Bilton on the police non-emergency 101 number.

Posted on Thursday 5th June 2014
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