On the trail of rural crime

WEEK after week we report on thefts from isolated rural areas where gallons of oil or diesel are stolen, outbuildings and sheds are broken in to and birds and animals are killed and stolen.

So when the opportunity to go out with police and try to track down these criminals arose I jumped at the chance to see how the problem is tackled.

Operation Antler took place on a clear night, with a crescent moon, ideal conditions for crimes to be committed - but we were hopefully going to stop them in their tracks.

It is a multi-agency operation using the skills and knowledge of the Environment Agency and gamekeepers alongside the police, including wildlife crime officer PC Andy Swinburne who was taking part in the operation as his last shift for the force.

PC Katrina Cassidy, who ran the operation, told the group that north Northumberland had been hit hard by rural crimes.

We were tasked with stopping all vehicles we saw while out last Thursday night, and carrying out checks to make sure the occupants were not about to commit a crime.

I was accompanying PC Roxy Bird and Alnwick’s Neighbourhood Beat Manager PC David Brown. We were in the Christon Bank area, while other pairs were out in the far north near Wooler, Lucker and Belford, on the A1 at Purdy Lodge, Thrunton Woods and Rothbury.

Operation Coin, which targets metal theft, is also ongoing and police were reminded to stop and search vehicles for that as well.

Operation Antler is run from a base in north Northumberland. Gamekeepers across the area are on the lookout for any suspicious vehicles. When any are spotted they call control and a message is sent out to the nearest team to find out who they are and why they are there.

We patrolled the Christon Bank, Embleton and Rock area and although we didn’t catch any criminals in relation to Operation Antler, it still gave me a brilliant insight into how police initiatives are carried out.

The patrol car we were in was kitted out with ANPR technology which stands for automatic numberplate recognition.

PC Brown said the kit is invaluable. It hold details about nearly every car numberplate in the country. As we parked up tucked into the dark Northumberland countryside PC Brown told me that the technology can be used to show if an MOT, insurance and tax is held on the car. But it can also be used to record how a car is being driven, which can be played back if there are any disputes.

When a car was spotted we followed it, recording its tracks before calling through to control. Once a numberplate has been given, police are told to whom it is registered, as well as if there are any crimes attached to either the car or driver.

Once a car is stopped details are checked and if they do not correspond to those given, or police are in any way suspicious a form is issued for documents to be produced at a police station within seven days.

Just as we returned to the police station at around 2am, calls were coming in about suspicious vehicles in the Rothbury area.

Later that night, two men were arrested for a series of offences near Caistron Quarry. Poaching and lamping equipment were seized and the pair, from south east Northumberland, have been bailed to attend Alnwick Police Station.