Police Scotland and partners are leading a new drive to reduce crime in rural communities by targeting offenders and enhancing crime prevention.

A national multi-agency rural crime prevention steering group is to spear-head collaborative efforts to reduce opportunities for offenders; and an action plan has been put in place to mitigate the threat from crime in Scotland’s rural communities.

According to NFU Mutual, crime is costing rural communities an estimated £1.9million a year.

Assistant Chief Constable Derek Robertson, Police Scotland’s Rural Crime lead, said:

“Crime in rural Scotland can range from theft of agricultural machinery, vehicles, tools, livestock or fuel through to fire raising, housebreaking and vandalism.

“It can be perpetrated by opportunists or organised groups of criminals who travel the countryside specifically targeting rural locations.

“We want to ensure that all communities in Scotland have the confidence that Police Scotland and partners are working hard to prevent crime and if they are in fact affected by crime, they can report it with appropriate action taken and robust investigations to trace those responsible.

“Rural communities contribute significantly to the economy through agriculture, tourism and leisure and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure the criminal fraternity are hindered at every opportunity.”

The first meeting of the national steering group will take place at the end of June. Members will include Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, National Farmers’ Union (Scotland), NFU Mutual, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Business Resilience Centre, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Scottish Government.

The steering group’s action plan focuses on crime prevention and investigation, identifying and sharing best practice from across Scotland and other jurisdictions. It will be kept under review to identify the most important current issues and techniques to ensure a comprehensive and flexible approach to preventing and tackling rural crime.

The group will co-ordinate and support local delivery. Following successful pilots in J Division (Lothians and Borders) and Q Division (Lanarkshire) each of the 14 Divisions is introducing its own Rural and Wildlife Crime Governance Group which will include local partners.

Chief Superintendent Gavin Robertson, the Police Scotland tactical lead for rural crime, said:

“From the economic impact of rural crime on communities to the personal impact that becoming a victim of crime can have, there is no doubt that a co-ordinated, preventative approach can make a real difference.

“We are working to target-harden rural communities and deter criminals. We know that we cannot achieve this alone and so this work is being carried out with a wide range of partners.

“Our message is clear, rural communities are not safe havens for criminals. We will target them wherever they operate and we will work with our partners to ensure that our communities take prevention measures to cut off opportunities for criminal gain.”

Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, said:

“Recorded crime in Scotland is at its lowest level in 40 years thanks to our police officers and staff who are working hard to keep communities in all parts of our country safe. Rural policing presents unique and particular challenges and I warmly welcome the introduction of the rural crime prevention steering group to focus on these important issues.

“Working in partnership and sharing best practice across a range of national agencies is key to reducing the threat from crime to Scotland’s rural communities and key sections, such as agriculture, where crimes can prove devastating to a farm business in terms of livestock or equipment. This builds on the recent launch of two community-based Rural Watch schemes in Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, and Perth and Kinross, and means the challenge of rural crimes is being addressed at both a local and national level.”

Gemma Thomson, Legal and Technical Policy Manager for NFU Scotland, said:

“The Union has been actively working with Police Scotland for some time in relation to members rural crime concerns. This new working group is affirmation of how seriously Police Scotland is taking rural crime, and shows a real commitment to taking forward some of the issues identified.

“We look forward to participating in this working group, as this positive targeted approach is very encouraging.”

Catriona Dalrymple, Head of Policy at the Crown Office, said:

“I want those who live in rural and agricultural communities to know that we are on their side, that we are working hard to ensure that they are protected, and when crime does happen it will be dealt with effectively.

“We welcome any measures which will help to prevent rural crime, and the work of this group will closely complement our own ongoing review of our prosecution policy.”

Tim Price, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual said:

“Our claims data this year indicates an overall reduction in rural crime, which is great news. That said, the overall picture isn’t consistent everywhere and Scotland in particular has seen certain types of crimes rising steadily, despite an overall reduction. Vehicle crime especially is a major concern in Scotland and we have seen a dramatic increase in claims around quad bikes, amongst other things. It is for these reasons that initiatives like the one being launched by Police Scotland are so important. It is only by bringing together police, communities and all of those affected by rural crime, that we can make a lasting impact on rural crime.”

Brian Gibson, of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, said:

“We are delighted to be involved in this important initiative working in partnership with Police Scotland and the other agencies. The SBRC is committed to creating a secure and resilient Scotland within which business can flourish.

“The rural community is an important part of Scotland’s economic wellbeing, supplying produce to retail, locations and services for the tourist industry, the home to many of our whisky distilleries and much more. It is therefore essential that we provide the support and reassurance to those who live, work and visit our rural communities that every possible effort is being undertaken to provide and develop security and resilience. This initiative will provide a real framework for tackling crime, improving security and resilience. We look forward to working with all the agencies involved and importantly the businesses with the rural community.”

Two new community-based Ruralwatch schemes were launched recently in K Division (Renfrewshire and Inverclyde) and D Division (Perth and Kinross).

Anyone with concerns about rural crime can contact Police Scotland on 101 or if it is an emergency through 999. Or alternatively contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where information can be given in confidence.