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  1. ITV Report

Threatened, harassed, attacked; Cambridgeshire's countryside crimewave

People living in rural areas say the level of violent crime is becoming unbearable. Credit: ITV Anglia.

Farmers and landowners living in the Cambridgeshire countryside say they are being attacked and intimidated on a daily basis, with criminals operating in rural locations becoming increasingly violent.

There has been a 400% increase in reported incidents of hare coursing since 2014, with many people living in isolated areas say those responsible regularly threaten and harass anyone who stands in their way.

I don't think that the ordinary man in the street understands what it's like to be in the countryside, and be attacked continually day after day, sometimes two or three times a day by people who want to break in, damage the crops, rip hares to pieces and threaten any farmer or gamekeeper or person who tries to stop them from doing these dreadful things.

– Ellen Muirhead, Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch.
  • Click to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Graham Stothard

Many of the people who experience the abuse on a regular basis were reluctant to show their face for fear of retribution, so only spoke on the assurance their identity would be obscured.

The people we’re dealing with are very intimidating, there are often groups of them and they are brandishing weapons for intimidation.

– Gamekeeper

The pictures below were taken by members of Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch. Dead hares and sometimes even sheep, where the dogs have got out of control.

Farmers have grown used to finding the remains of hares on their land. Credit: Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch
  • in 2017 the cost of rural crime in Cambridgeshire was the second highest in the UK - £1,716,879. It marked a slight increase on the year before.
  • The rise in hare coursing though, has been very steep. In 2014 there were 364 reported incidents, in 2017 it was 1807.

Click to watch an interview with Inspector Matt Johnson from Cambridgeshire Police

Cambridgeshire Countryside Watch was set up as a group to help farmers, landowners and people living in isolated areas communicate better, and report any crimes they were aware had been committed.

With only eight full time staff in the dedicated rural team, covering Cambridgeshire is a challenge. Credit: ITV Anglia.

We've had a number of break-ins on the farm, one of which we did disturb some intruders who were armed with iron bars and we do feel under threat. Particularly if we are aware through an alarm or through some other means that there might be people within our premises.

They have no compunction about using violence against people if they’re disturbed.

– Farmer

A specialist unit within Cambridgeshire Police has been set up to tackle rural crime, but the large amount of ground to cover makes it a difficult job.

PC Sam Thompson on patrol. Credit: ITV Anglia.

Officers also say the law they use to prosecute hare coursers are unsuitable.

The offences that we’re dealing with, section 30 of the game act which is an 1831 offence, it's almost 200 years old legislation.

We’re using that on a daily basis to try and prosecute these people.

It's a piece of legislation that is designed to keep gamekeepers from taking a bit of food home for their children, and that we're then using to try and combat a common sport and it doesn't really work.

– PC Sam Thompson, Rural Crime Action Team