Wiltshire PCC Philip Wilkinson and others in a fieldWiltshire PCC Philip Wilkinson has welcomed new powers being given to police to tackle hare coursers – and warned criminal gangs: ‘Wiltshire isn’t the easy option for your vile activities’.

Earlier this month, the Home Office announced new criminal offences and increased sentencing powers for those found guilty of taking part in the illegal activity – something Mr Wilkinson had lobbied for alongside Devizes MP Danny Kruger and Salisbury MP John Glen.

Hare coursing was a key concern raised by Wiltshire’s farmers to the PCC on the doorsteps, and during his police and crime plan consultation and surveys, because their land is trampled, carved up and ruined by coursers.

Mr Wilkinson said:

“I’m pleased the government listened – the existing law was no longer fit-for-purpose and it wasn’t providing the police what they needed and wasn’t an efficient deterrent to this type of activity.

“These new criminal offences, extra powers to seize dogs and ban ownership alongside increased penalties and sentences can only serve to really help in the fight against the scourge of hare coursers.”

And, Mr Wilkinson added, the illegal activity isn’t just restricted to the counties it happens in – organised criminal gangs stream on the dark web with people betting on how many hares are caught or which dogs clock up the most kills.

Criminal gangs

A focus on rural crime is a key priority in Wiltshire’s next police and crime plan, which sets the strategic policing blueprint in the county for the next three years.

“Farmers are telling me they are fed up with it and it’s happening nightly in Wiltshire – especially at this time of year when this type of activity seems to step up a gear,” he said.

“The Chief Constable and I are appalled by this and we are committed to driving this criminal, and illegal activity, to ground. Just as we are focusing on making Wiltshire a hostile place for drugs gangs and knife crime, Wiltshire will become even more hostile to these rural criminal gangs.

“But the more sinister part of this is the serious organised crime behind it, streaming it live on the dark web and using this vile and inhumane activity to illicit money from people who appear to be drawn to this blood-thirsty activity.

“We have intelligence which shows hare coursing on Salisbury Plain being watched as far afield as China – this needs to stop and Wiltshire will no longer stand for this.”

Mr Wilkinson has already pledged a boost to the rural crime team with officers from the government’s Uplift programme and he’s welcomed Wiltshire Police’s co-ordinated plans to tackle the criminals who have been plaguing the county’s farmlands.

Operation Galileo

Beating the coursers is already on the agenda for Wiltshire Police.

As part of the nationwide Operation Galileo, in which information is shared between forces across the country, Wiltshire Police’s Rural Crime Team is increasing their patrols and working closely with the farming community and other partners to catch hare coursers.

Sergeant Greg Fergusson said:

“We have built close links with our rural communities which has helped us build intelligence around where hare coursers operate and sometimes who they are.

“Some criminals will travel hundreds of miles to be involved and are often associated with organised crime gangs.

“What many people don’t realise is that the hare coursing is a means to these gangs generating huge sums of money through live-streaming their activities for illegal gambling around the world. This then funds other criminal activity.

“And while some may dismiss the impact of hare coursing and offenders consider it to be their ‘leisure activity’, they are also carrying out hostile reconnaissance identifying vulnerable sheds, barns, hangars and other storage spaces used to store agricultural machinery and tools.

“We’d urge the public to report all information where they think there is a link to this type of criminality.”

Challenging task

The focus would also see Wiltshire Police work alongside its partners like the Ministry of Defence Police and Landmarc to tackle the growing problem.

Mr Wilkinson added: “Revealing everything which is coming to these gangs would be churlish but I have to warn them, Wiltshire isn’t an easy option for you.

“Salisbury Plain and the masses of farmland we have makes it a more challenging task but not one that we will not shy away from here in Wiltshire.”