Tackling Farm Crime in Gwent

Ian Johnston met with Howard Vickery and other local farmers on Howard's farm in Crumlin this afternoon to find out more about how the Online Watch Link (OWL) system he supports is helping to combat farm crime. Howard's farm has been repeatedly targeted by thieves over the years. OWL sends out targeted messages via email, phone or SMS alerts about crimes and problems to members like Howard who have signed up in communities throughout Gwent. The system, which is heavily supported by Neighbourhood Watch, contains a total of over 5,500 watches, including Farm Watch.

Between September 2013 and January 2014, Gwent Police Farm Watch Coordinator, CSO Allan Mills, has helped increase Farm Watch membership on OWL tenfold from 300 to nearly 800 members. By using Farm Watch to connect with farmers and increasing face to face engagement with them, farm related crime in Gwent has been significantly reduced by 27%.

Intelligence gained from the public via Farm Watch has helped Gwent Police to catch a series of criminals involved in farm and rural related crime ranging from firearms crimes, crimes against animals to the theft of farm machinery, fuel and metal. The system enables Local Policing Unit Commanders to have a joined up approach regarding suspects across Gwent.

Some of the success stories following intelligence received from the public via Farm Watch includes:

  • A warrant at a farm in Newport where a £20,000 stolen digger was recovered (14th Dec 2013)
    the arrest of two offenders relating to 63 Mercedes catalytic convertor thefts in Gwent from August 2013 to Jan 2014
  • Offender arrested for stealing £9,000 of horse tack in Tredunnock. Offender was convicted at Cardiff
  • Crown Court in February 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
  • the recovery of up to £12,000 worth of tools (14th December 2013)
  • the discovery of and closing down of a cannabis factory (14th December 2013)
  • intelligence from farmers regarding Operation Imperial, the anti-slavery operation in Gwent
  • and the recovery of a number of stolen quad bikes, farm equipment and vehicles (March 2014)

Key support from essential partners has also been vital in the fight against farm crime. The Home Office have provided £2,000 worth of security marking for the most vulnerable farms in Gwent and the Farmers Union of Wales have also provided sponsorship for Farm Watch signs to be erected on gates and posts to warn off any potential criminals.

Since September 2013, Gwent Police CSO Allan Mills has been working full time as the Gwent Farm Watch Coordinator and plays a pivotal role in ensuring the Farm Watch system is being utilised effectively in Gwent by building relationships with the farming community to boost membership. Allan and his colleagues recently scooped an award for Outstanding National Rural Crime Initiative at the National Metal Theft Awards in London for their efforts.

"Farmers are a special group as they are a bit isolated and hard to reach but OWL helps break down those barriers and helps us coordinate policing with them," says Allan.

"It's the way I communicate with all the farmers quickly and I receive regular intelligence about suspicious activity which I wouldn't have otherwise. The system has enabled us to have a more coordinated approach to tackling farm crime in rural Gwent and allows us to gather vital information to share with the Local Policing Unit Commanders.

The increase in membership means that we've got hundreds of extra pairs of eyes and ears out there in the farming community and the farmers now feel they are getting a better service by having instant access to us."

Crumlin farmer, Howard Vickery, is a big supporter of the OWL system for very good reasons. Howard's workshop on his farm has been raided on three or four occasions with all of his chainsaw's stolen each time. His quad bikes have also been stolen on three occasions. One of his quad bikes was stolen twice and was retrieved each time by the Police. A warrant on an address led to the discovery of the bike and five more stolen quad bikes. The offenders were jailed for 13 months.

"I'm a big supporter of the OWL system, it's just brilliant and the only people who don't like it are the criminals," says Howard.

"There's no doubt that OWL has helped improve contact with the Police and people in the farming community regarding crime. I always read the emails from OWL and it just helps you to be more vigilant, especially if there's a suspicious vehicle in the area or someone acting suspiciously.

We know instantly what's going on. It helps the Police to work with us to try and solve these crimes and it joins up the farmers and the Police throughout Gwent.

I've improved my security a lot since OWL has been in place because I'm more aware of what's going on and what security is needed. Allan Mills, the Farm Watch Coordinator, has been good as gold and has provided valuable advice on setting up all the security I need for the farm.

Diesel theft used to be a big problem but we definitely feel as a farming community that there's less crime going on here. We feel more secure because we feel people are keeping a close eye on things."

Highlighting the importance of the OWL system he supports in the fight against farm crime, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston, said: "Farmers can often feel isolated in rural areas but OWL is an effective and valuable tool which helps to reassure our farming community and prevents and deters criminals from actively targeting farmers.

The passion of Allan Mills and the other Police officers working to enhance relationships with the farming community can't be denied and I would like to thank all those people making this work because it's making a big difference.

Gwent utilises OWL brilliantly as a whole and we now have over 37,000 members registered across all the watches. It's a great example of police working with partners and members of the community to achieve a common goal - to make Gwent a safer place."

For further information about OWL and how you can sign up as a member or become a co-ordinator, visit www.owl.co.uk/gwent