Politicians highlight rural crime issues in the Borders

MSPs Paul Wheelhouse and  Christine Grahame with representatives from the farming community and police at Baddinsgill Farm near West Linton.
MSPs Paul Wheelhouse and Christine Grahame with representatives from the farming community and police at Baddinsgill Farm near West Linton.
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NFU Scotland is taking politicians on-farm to highlight the growing impact of rural crime in the Scottish countryside.

Leading agricultural insurer, NFU Mutual, has estimated that criminal activity cost those that live and work in Scotland’s countryside around £1.9million in 2013 alone. It is expected that the cost of rural crime in Scotland will have increased when the 2014 figures become available.

Following a roundtable evidence session on agricultural crime that was held by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in February, MSPs on the committee are looking to meet with farmers in their constituencies who have been impacted by instances of agricultural crime.

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame and Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs Paul Wheelhouse met with representatives from the farming community and police on Friday at Baddinsgill Farm near West Linton to discuss the issue of agricultural crime.

Ms Grahame, who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee and chaired a discussion on rural crime earlier this year, said: “One first step would be for farmers to communicate with others via, say, text message if they notice strange behaviour on their land. It would also be good if members of the public did the same.

“I have suggested that Police Scotland could hold discussions at the Borders agricultural shows on preventing and detecting rural crime such as thefts of farm machinery and livestock.”

The contingent learned that Baddingsgill Farm alone loses around 20 ewes a year and these incidents are not opportunistic crimes, as someone with shepherding experience is required.

Another of the farmers said he had lost 200 sheep in two years, which is a significant loss of income.

As a result of the rural crime session in the Scottish Parliament, the Solicitor General for Scotland, Lesley Thomson QC, announced a review of prosecution policy related to agricultural crime.

NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie and policy manager Gemma Thomson met with the Solicitor General and her colleagues recently to discuss the review.

NFU Scotland is looking to hear from members who have been affected by any rural crime that that led to a prosecution, but where they do not believe that the severity of the sanction applied was appropriate. This will help develop the evidence base to be used in discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service.

Policy manager Gemma Thomson said: “The full impact of agricultural crime on victims needs to be considered by prosecutors and presented as a matter of course to the court.

“We want to hear from those members who have been subjected to criminal activity and have experience of the case proceeding through the justice system, but felt the severity of the sanction imposed was wrong.

“We need a prosecution service that deals appropriately with rural crime and such feedback would be invaluable in ensuring we get a system that is fit for purpose.”