Under the new initiative known as Operation Ragwort, the OCGs who target rural communities and are at the forefront of crimes such as burglary, theft of farm vehicles and equipment, poaching and hare coursing, will be the focus of a regional, co-ordinated, campaign led by the south west region’s Police and Crime Commissioners.
Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Philip Wilkinson said Ragwort - with mutual support and cooperation across the region - will provide an intelligence-rich picture of the level of criminality enabling all south west forces to better disrupt and apprehend those responsible, making Wiltshire safer for rural residents.
He said: “We need to further build our capability to tackle those OCGs engaged in acquisitive rural crime, not only in Wiltshire but regionally and nationally and that is why there is a real need to create a new collaboration called Operation Ragwort.
“Ragwort will be an intelligence, evidence and data-led south west regional collaboration to robustly tackle rural and heritage acquisitive, and other rural crimes, where information will be collated, analysed and shared with the National Rural Crime Unit.
“I want to help build the capacity of police forces across the south of England - not just in the south west - in order to better understand the networking of these organised criminal groups so that we can engage more proactively in enforcement, interdiction and disruption operations when the intelligence and evidences allows.”
Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “The theft of agricultural machinery, plant and vehicles costs the UK millions of pounds each year. Thefts have a significant impact on farming and construction businesses and adversely affects wellbeing for individuals such as farmers who rely on these high value machines.
“The last year the force recorded 58 allegations of quad bike theft alone and in the last six months 35 allegations of tractor GPS equipment thefts.
“I am delighted to be working with my colleagues around the South West on a new initiative which will bring focus and resources to cracking down on a crime type which affects people in one of our most important and under-valued industries.”
As the South West’s response to serious, organised, acquisitive crimes and rural crime, Ragwort will utilise and coordinate intelligence from our smallest communities through to local policing areas and across to other force areas and national and international borders.
The National Rural Crime Network has commissioned research into this link between rural crime and organised criminal gangs, and preliminary evidence suggests that rural crime is being used by gangs to fund other criminal activities including links to the international drugs trade.
With this in mind, Operation Ragwort hopes to build upon the successful partnership work in the south-west which is being done to disrupt the illegal drugs in the region, which was launched in 2021 as Operation Scorpion.
Wiltshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Mark Cooper said: “Rural communities are all too often victims of opportunist theft yet, over recent years, there has been a distinct shift towards Organised Crime Groups moving in to steal high-value items such as vehicles and electronics.
“By working across our borders in a clear and supportive way to share intelligence, Operation Ragwort provides the right framework to make this happen and bring offenders to justice.
“As rural crimes are often under reported we seek to increase public engagement and encourage reporting across the region and build the intelligence picture.”
“Our rural communities must feel empowered, recognised and confident in the Police who are working with them and with partners to make the countryside safe and welcoming for residents and visitors alike.”