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East Anglia Future 50

Police must make 'sinister' hare coursers a priority, say rural business leaders

PUBLISHED: 15:16 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 20 August 2018

A hare in a field near Bungay. Picture: FRANCES CRICKMORE

A hare in a field near Bungay. Picture: FRANCES CRICKMORE

Archant

Rural landowners’ leaders have called on police across East Anglia to stop the “sinister tactics, threats and intimidation” used by hare coursers during the peak season for the crime.

At a time of year when there is traditionally a rise in hare coursing, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has written to police chief constables across the East of England to seek assurance that officers will commit a “serious level of resource to tackle the crime”.

Hare coursing involves using dogs to chase, catch and kill hares, with gambling on the outcome common practice. The crime becomes more prevalent following the harvest and is a particular concern in the East of England when large areas of arable land are cleared of crops, making it easier to travel across fields.

Ben Underwood, regional director for CLA East, said: “Every year following harvest farmers and landowners across our region brace themselves for a rise in hare coursing. We appreciate that police have a range of significant pressures but we want to ensure that tackling hare coursing remains a priority.

“It is a misconception for people to think this is a minor crime in the countryside. Those involved in hare coursing are hardened criminals – often using threats, intimidation and in some cases violence against anyone who questions or challenges their actions.

“These criminals don’t think twice about trespassing on land, damaging crops and property and give no consideration to the animal welfare of the hares involved.

“As the recent National Rural Crime Survey has shown, those who work or live in rural areas feel vulnerable to crime. It is little surprise that many feel isolated and the criminals who roam the countryside to go hare coursing only add to this feeling of unease.”

The CLA letter also highlights the organisation’s own suggested action plan for hare coursing, which includes the introduction of specific sentencing guidelines for hare coursing, more resources for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, additional training for 101 call handlers, and giving police the ability to reclaim kennelling costs of dogs from offenders – as seizing the dogs involved is an effective way to prevent hare coursing.

Police forces across the region are launching their campaigns for the season under Operation Galileo, a national initiative which focuses on hare coursing.

Jon Chandler, Norfolk police’s rural crime manager for King’s Lynn and west Norfolk, said: “We have regular meetings with neighbouring forces to set up Operation Galileo action days over the hare coursing season, which is normally from September to March. With the harvest taking place as bit earlier this year, there have already been incidents reported.

“The action days will include a number of assets, potentially including drones, off-road vehicles, and additional policing resources There is also work ongoing at the moment with regards to a dedicated operational plan.”

Any suspicious activity in the countryside should be reported to the police on 101, but people have been advised to call 999 if they suspect a crime is actually taking place. Hare coursers should not be tackled directly by members of the public, and any calls to the police should be made from a discreet location.

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