Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary has teamed up with other police Forces in the South East region this week as part of intensified partnership efforts to tackle rural crime and disrupt active offenders.

The South East Partnership Against Rural Crime (SEPARC) consists of the Constabulary’s dedicated Country Watch team, working alongside the specialist rural crime teams from Thames Valley Police, Sussex Police, Surrey Police, and Kent Police.

Throughout the week Monday 26 February to Friday 1 March, SEPARC undertook a number of localised and co-operative operations tackling wildlife, environmental, heritage and agricultural criminals.

In Hampshire specifically, Country Watch focused on thefts of farm machinery and plant vehicles (FMPV).

Generally speaking, over the last 12 months FMPV reports have seen a steady increase in Hampshire.

This type of crime is often perpetrated by transient offenders, who travel across county borders to steal and transport stolen goods. These stolen goods are on occasion also later transported overseas.

On Thursday and Friday this week, Country Watch conducted a proactive operation across Hampshire with a view to stopping thieves in transit. Part of this operation took place in the north of the county, with a second group of officers focusing their efforts at Portsmouth International Port.

The team in the north of the county – made up of Country Watch officers as well as members of our Roads Policing Unit (RPU) Proactive team, Commercial Vehicle Unit, Test Valley Neighbourhoods Policing Team and support from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) – based themselves out of Sutton Scotney off the A34. Those officers conducted patrols and stop checks on vehicles, in particular those transporting FMPV. This work was conducted along the A34 up to Whitchurch, west on the A303 to Andover, and on the A30 west towards Stockbridge.

Meanwhile, the team at the ferry port in Portsmouth – made up of Country Watch officers, local neighbourhood officers, Thames Valley Police officers and with support from a dedicated NAVCIS vehicle examiner – sought to intercept criminals making attempts to transport stolen goods to the continent.

Over the course of Thursday, more than 100 vehicles were stopped by the teams, comprising of a mix of HGVs, vans, trailers, cars, and vehicles with abnormal loads and carrying plant machinery.

Thorough checks were conducted and fortunately no stolen goods were identified. Other traffic related offences were identified by teams, however, with 6 prohibition notices being served by the DVSA for vehicles being driven in a dangerous condition.

The team also conducted a slightly more unusual check of a vehicle at the ferry port which was exporting live animals, namely some monkeys

On Friday the operation was in full swing again in the same locations, with additional support from the Winchester Neighbourhood Enforcement Team, and further efforts also carried out towards Emsworth on the A27 with support from Sussex Police and Thames Valley Police colleagues. Earlier in the week, Country Watch were engaged in proactive patrols with Thames Valley colleagues on the Hampshire and West Berkshire border.

Despite hundreds of vehicles being stop checked over the course of the two days, no stolen goods were identified.

Inspector Cath MacDonald said: “Teams have worked tirelessly over the course of the week drawing from the skills and expertise of specialists in their field – whether this be the individual rural crime teams involved, or the RPU Proactive and CVU officers who were policing the road networks.

“The contributions from all teams and Forces each day has proven that SEPARC can work extremely effectively as a partnership to bolster visible police presence in the areas where intelligence tells us transient criminals are operating. I am grateful to the ferry port staff, and everyone involved in the partnership work this week which has helped generate further intelligence for us to act upon.

“The efforts of Country Watch, with support from other local policing teams, of course continue day in and day out to address the full spectrum of criminality affecting our rural areas.”

ACC Lucy Hutson, Rural Policing Lead for Hampshire & Isle of Wight Constabulary, said: “Rural crime has an enormous impact on those effected, as it often sees local businesses suffer serious financial loss, and can destroy the livelihoods of hardworking farmers.

“We are fortunate to have some of the most beautiful parts of the country on our doorstep in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and it’s so important that people can live in, work in and visit our rural spaces without fear of being targeted by criminals.

“Our dedicated Country Watch officers work closely with other policing teams across the two counties all year round to tackle seasonal crime trends, provide support to victims, and relentlessly pursue offenders blighting the countryside.

“This week of action has given us the opportunity to utilise the skills and expertise of specialist policing teams from our neighbouring forces, to bring the fight to criminals who operate across county borders in the south east.”