SCOTLAND’S RURAL police initiative has toughened up its approach to catching organised criminal gangs operating from the north-east of England, but targeting Scottish farms.

With Scotland already reaping the benefits of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC) strategy launched in April, 2019, it is now upping the game by adopting new technology to catch rural criminals, using state-of-the-art drone technology.

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There is also a collaborative drive to share information with forces in the north of England, which is already leading to a crackdown on cross-border crime. The creation of a police partnership between Northumbria, Cumbria, Co Durham, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, is a first for rural crime.

“Criminals don’t respect borders,” said Constable Allan McKean, from the National Rural Crime Unit (NRCU). “We are well aware that a lot of rural crime committed in Scotland is organised and executed by serious organised crime groups from central Scotland and the north of England.”

He said this is not just about big bad guys with guns and drugs, but what they are involved in is getting money from rural communities to fund other illicit activities.

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The Scottish Borders area and its mazy network of country roads provide a perfect backdrop for criminal groups, but this new developing partnership between the five Police constabularies and divisions, will increase the chances of dismantling such cross-border crime groups.

“We have partnered up with police divisions south of the Border to share information regarding stolen property and intelligence – as much as possible in real time, which leads to better detections and increases our chances of recovering property,” he continued.

“Through cross-border co-operation, Police were able to recover three quad bikes stolen from the Scottish Borders and Lanarkshire and recovered near Bedlington in the north-east of England at the start of lockdown. Other individuals caught through cross-border co-operation have been sent to jail, which sends a clear message to cross-border criminals that we are taking this extremely seriously.”

To give rural policing efforts an additional advantage in tracking criminal movements, drone technology is also being explored. “We need to keep evolving to make sure we have the best tools as possible at our disposal and ultimately make rural environment’s a hostile place for criminals,” said Inspector Alan Dron, of the NRCU.

“Initially, we will be using drones overtly as we want people to know police operators are in the area which could work as a deterrent.

“We know some criminals are using drones where someone can sit at a road end in a vehicle and watch footage from the drone on their phone. They can then communicate with associates and tell them where, for example, the quad bikes are located, if there are locks on gates, a dog on the premises, and if they need bolt cutters etc,” he explained.

“They can look at somewhere they can commit crime without physically being on the premises which means they can execute crimes much quicker with all the information gathered beforehand. We need to be able to match the technology criminals are using and will try everything we can to crack down on rural crime in Scotland.”