Countryside on red alert against 'threatening and intimidating' criminal bloodsport gangs
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Rural police have been urged to take the "toughest possible action" against violent and intimidating rural criminals as the peak season for hare coursing arrives.
The illegal bloodsport - where gamblers bet on dogs chasing and killing hares - becomes more common after the summer harvest when large areas of arable land are cleared of crops, making it easier to travel across fields.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in the East of England called for anyone visiting or working in the countryside to be vigilant in spotting and reporting suspicious activity, to help police take action against hare coursers.
CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: "Following harvest we always see a spike in hare coursing and sadly the problem is once again prevalent in the countryside.
"Those involved in this crime are hardened criminals who will not think twice about threatening and intimidating anyone who attempts to stop them from pursuing this illegal activity.
"Our members regularly tell us how they have had crops damaged and fences, gates and hedges vandalised as hare coursers gain access to fields. The animal welfare concerns of this activity are also extremely worrying.
"We urge the police to take the toughest possible action against illegal hare coursing - but they need evidence to catch perpetrators and bring them to justice. This is why we encourage people to record and report any suspicious activity to the police."
One East Anglian landowner, who wants to remain anonymous due to the potential threat from criminal gangs using his land, said: "We are dealing with very violent people who are gaining access to our fields, damaging crops and breaking gates without a single care for the crime they are committing.
"We have met with the police who are doing the best they can but they are limited in their resource to tackle this crime. However, we must keep reporting incidents of illegal coursing and any damage so that we can keep the issue well up the police's agenda."
PC Jon Chandler leads Norfolk police's hare coursing operation, called Galileo. He said: "We take the issue of hare coursing very seriously because we understand the impact it has on our rural communities. This illegal activity damages peoples' property, threatens their income and can subject people to fear and intimidation on their own properties.
"We will act promptly and robustly to pursue any offender committing this type of crime and would urge the public and landowners to contact police on 999 if they witness hare coursing in progress."
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE HARE COURSING
- Do not approach hare coursers.
- Report any suspicious activity in the countryside to the police on 101.
- Call 999 if you suspect a crime is actually taking place.
- Call from a safe location and be prepared to give an accurate description of the people, their vehicles and dogs.
- Norfolk police are also encouraging people living in rural communities to download the free what3words app, which provides users with a simple and precise way to share their exact location quickly - giving officers a greater chances of catching offenders and securing evidence.