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Police say Norfolk farms have been targeted by 'organised crime' gang

The theft of around 100 sheep from East Tuddenham was one of the rural crimes discussed by farmers and police at a community meeting. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The theft of around 100 sheep from East Tuddenham was one of the rural crimes discussed by farmers and police at a community meeting. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Farmers from across south Norfolk and Breckland met with police in a bid to step up and co-ordinate their efforts in the fight against rural crime.

In the past few weeks, the region has seen increasing numbers of offences including the theft of over 100 sheep from a field at East Tuddenham, and equipment from other farms including trailers, pressure washers, fencing energisers and batteries.

PC Dave Armstrong, who focuses on rural crime and community safety, and Sgt Jim Heath from the Wymondham police headquarters were joined by crime prevention officer Stephanie Segens to address the nearly 20-strong audience of farmers at Centre Paws Norfolk in Wymondham.

PC Armstrong said the area was being targeted by an “organised crime group”, but police had difficulties in linking crimes to known offenders without strong evidence – even when property had been recovered.

“That is where we need you to be our eyes and ears,” he told the farmers. “We need better intelligence to know what is happening and have accurate and up-to-date information on the issues you are facing to target the right people in the right areas.”

He asked farmers to email or call him with any intelligence, and advised them to carry out better property marking and take photographs of their equipment and vehicles so they can be identified at a later date. “Communication is key,” he said.

Sara Harrold, who farms at Barford, asked about new forensic asset marking technology such as SmartWater, an invisible liquid which can be painted onto possessions and assigns them with their own unique forensic code, allowing them to be traced back to the owner and criminals back to the crime.

But other farmers said they had spent thousands on marking property and on CCTV but had never had anything returned to them.

Jack Hipperson, who farms at Wicklewood, said he had 4,000 litres of diesel stolen from his yard before Christmas and had reported it but had not yet seen a single police officer. “There used to be a village policeman who was available 24/7 but now nobody wants to know,” he said.

Sgt Heath said when reporting a crime it would be assessed on forensic evidence value and if it was limited it would simply be recorded and no police officer would visit.

Paul Myhill, farm manager for the Hardingham estate, said he saw a “suspicious” vehicle parked up near the farm and took its registration number.

“Do we call the police every time we see something even if it might be innocent?” he asked. “Is there a list of vehicles we should be looking out for?”

Sgt Heath advised to call even if no crime was being committed because they had teams monitoring calls, emails and texts and something might match up with their database.

Mrs Harrold suggested farmers join a WhatsApp group to share information but they discussed the importance of verifying and vouching for every member to ensure there were no “rogue” members passing information into the wrong hands.

PC Armstrong said: “We believe someone in the farming community is rogue because the recent sheep theft would have required a two-tier livestock lorry and the specialist knowledge to handle sheepdogs.”

He said they were currently looking at all Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras on the major routes in and out of the county to try to identify the lorry involved in the crime on that night.

He added: “The criminals have their experts in different fields, and we have to evolve new ways of targeting them and catch them.”

• Anyone who sees any suspicious activity can email PC Armstrong on armstrongd@norfolk.pnn.police.uk or text him on 07583 013272 or the general police number 101.

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