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As a new hare coursing season begins, Essex Police’s rural engagement officers are keen to remind would-be hare coursers and poachers they are not welcome in this county.
The team focus on hare coursing and poaching as they understand the damage, the cost of that damage and the fear this vicious crime can cause in our more isolated communities.
Incidents of hare coursing in Essex dropped by half in the year to March 31 – 180 incidents were recorded, compared with 363 for the previous 12 months, a drop of 183 or 50.4%.
Part of this success is down to joint working with forces across the Eastern Counties and in Kent under the banner of Operation Galileo, a borderless scheme which makes it easier for officers to catch offenders and bring them to justice.
And last year, officers also started working more closely with National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopters and using drones to improve their ability to spot hare coursers in action and then track the suspects and direct officers on the ground to locate and arrest them.
Sergeant Paul Brady, of the Essex Police Rural Engagement Team, says: “Our work with NPAS, neighbouring police forces and the CPS means that hare coursers are increasingly avoiding our county because there is a higher chance we will catch them.
“We’ve seen a significant drop in incidents reported in Essex since we started Operation Galileo two years ago. Key to this is the removal of policing borders when certain tactics are used, which has made arresting and prosecuting offenders much easier.
“We share all interactions and movements of people suspected of being involved in hare coursing.
“When a suspect is apprehended, we look at the most appropriate offences for them to be charged with. This is often criminal damage but can range from trespassing in pursuit of game, possession of drugs and common assault, to possession of weapons and public order offences.”
The Rural Engagement Team have also made best use of new legislation designed to target poachers, deal with the cruelty of hare coursing and tackle the organised crime groups which profit from it.
In one of the first cases of its kind in the country, two men arrested in Paglesham, near Rochford, were sentenced in July for trespassing with intent to search for, or to pursue, hares with dogs, a new offence introduced under section 63 of the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing (PCCS) Act 2022.
And, in a national first, the team worked with CPS East of England to achieve the first dog prohibition order in England under section 66 of the Act. Two men were convicted in February under the Game Act 1831 after each admitted a charge of daytime trespass in pursuit of game in the Saffron Walden area. They were then banned from owning or keeping dogs for three years.
Paul says rural engagement officers work closely with farmers, gamekeepers and estate staff across Essex, which is 72% rural. They provide advice on how to prevent hare coursers from getting on to farmland and also offer more general agricultural crime prevention information.
“Where organised criminal groups are involved in hare coursing, there can be a lot of threats and intimidation, which is particularly alarming for people living in our more isolated communities,” he says.
“We also understand the huge cost poaching in all its forms causes for farmers and landowners. It’s not just damage to gates and fences. If vehicles are used, they compact soil and destroy the soil structure which affects crop yields.
“There’s the loss of crops and damage to crop land when vehicles compact the soil and destroy the soil structure.”
In order to tackle hare coursing and poaching, says Paul, Essex Police need members of the public to contact them with information.
“If you see hare coursers and poachers in action, keep yourself safe and never challenge them but do ring 999 and try to provide an accurate location – What3Words is very useful for this,” he says.
“If you have information about hare coursing or poaching, please report it via our website at www.essex.police.uk/ro or ring 101.”
Op Galileo tackles ‘borderless’ hare coursing
The seven forces of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk linked up in September 2021 to remove policing borders when certain tactics are used. This has made catching and prosecuting offenders easier.
The agreement, completed with the support of the Crown Prosecution Service, means the forces become one when using certain powers, such as community protection warnings & notices and criminal behaviour orders.
They also share information about automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), the seizure of dogs and all interactions and movements of people suspected to be involved in hare coursing.
What is hare coursing?
Hare coursing traditionally begins in September or October – depending on the weather – when crops have been harvested and ploughed, making them the perfect ground for the illegal blood sport.
Hare coursing causes damage to crops, harms animal welfare and threatens rural communities. It can result in intimidation and even violence.
Landowners are urged to consider blocking entrances to their fields with ditches, fencing or trees or even barriers like barrels filled with concrete.
What can people do to help?
If you see hare coursing taking place, ring 999 immediately and provide as much information as you can – for example, a What3Words location, a description of the people involved, vehicle registration numbers, vehicle descriptions and the location and direction of travel.
When the police give you a reference number, please put this and the day’s date into any WhatsApp groups you are a part of so that anyone in the area with information can ring police, who can link it to the same incident, if relevant.
However, it is very important that you don’t confront hare coursers or put yourself at risk.
If you see anything which you feel needs police attention, or you have information about a crime or criminal activity, always ring 999 if it is an emergency or a crime in progress.
Otherwise, you can report it online at www.essex.police.uk/ro
Alternatively, you can ring 101.
You can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, online or by calling 0800 555 111.
For more information and advice on rural crime visit the Essex Police Rural Crime webpages at www.essex.police.uk/ruralcrime