Gloucestershire PCC elections: Hopes from rural community

Combine harvester
Image caption The NFU in Gloucestershire hopes that rural concerns will be given more importance by the new PCC

A private estate in rural Gloucestershire has been targeted by thieves twice this year.

In the second raid they took up to £60,000 worth of goods from the house while the owners were at home.

"The burglary was done in the early evening with the burglars noting that my parents were still up, slightly hard of hearing, watching the television.

"They entered and exited the house before the alarms were switched on," said Caroline Lowsley-Williams.

She runs Chavenage House, a privately-owned estate, near Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

In March, the decorative sections at the top of the gateposts were stolen by burglars.

In total, Ms Lowsley-Williams said the gateposts cost £7,000 to replace and a further £15,000 was spent to improve security.

Her case is typical of the kind of rural crime that takes place in the county.

'Prying eyes'

A survey by NFU Mutual in June estimated a 6% rise in rural theft in 2011 across the UK.

Image caption Chavenage House near Tetbury has been broken into twice this year

The overall cost of rural crime in Gloucestershire has been estimated by the firm to be about £760,000.

The most typical items being targeted have been cited as fuel, metals, tractors and other farm vehicles such as quad bikes.

Since 2010, Gloucestershire Police has worked closely with the NFU and NFU Mutual to find ways of tackling rural crime.

Its Rural Watch scheme has also grown in popularity from 550 members in January 2010 to 1,500 in September this year.

Although the NFU feels positive action has been taken to address the problem, there are hopes the new police and crime commissioner will not forget rural communities.

One aspect that is a concern for some farmers is more visibility of police officers.

Farmer James Cox said: "I guess what we're looking for is to use the budget as best as possible to increase the number of police officers in the rural community.

"There always seem to be prying eyes around - it's obviously a large area to cover but the more visible the police are, the more chance the prying eyes are either caught or put off from being there."

'Smaller population'

Others believe a better understanding of rural crime and its links to organised crime is needed.

John Tingey, the former chairman of the NFU, helped set up closer working with the police in 2010.

One scheme involved farmers texting the police about any suspicious activity, so they could respond immediately.

Mr Tingey said: "When you're talking about quad bikes, they will steal them in quantity.

"When they fulfil that order, then it all goes quiet.

"Then there's another spate because there's been an order for 20-30 quad bikes across the water somewhere."

In Gloucestershire, quad bikes thefts fell from 85 to 32 between 2010 and 2011. He puts is down to the closer working relationship.

Gloucestershire NFU chairman Charles Mann said: "The police commissioner can ensure the budget and the plan are fair to all sectors. Because we are a smaller population we get a lower tick in the box.

"The current police force would naturally prioritise the urban areas, because there are more people living there, there are more people to protect.

"It would be our job to work with the police and crime commissioners to bring to their attention our needs in the countryside."

For people such as Ms Lowsley-Williams the hope is to prevent further break-ins. She wants the new police commissioner to understand what it is like being a victim.

"I'm rather hoping they will look at the overall picture as a member of the public rather than as a policeman - and from that angle give us what we want."

On 15 November 2012, voters in England and Wales will go to the polls to elect the first police and crime commissioners (PCCs).