Having lived in a rural part of East Sussex for over ten years, I am well aware of the concerns which remote areas have about crime and police resourcing. Whilst crime has reduced by a fifth since 2010, it has shown signs of an increase in the last year. Our towns and villages have lost many dedicated police resources albeit the latest plans from Sussex Police, following the increase in your Council Tax, is to recruit a further 200 officers.
I have spoken often in the House of Commons of the need to ensure that we police all parts of the community, and not just those with a busy trade on a Friday or Saturday night. All crime must be treated as serious to its victims, otherwise it escalates.
Last week, I met with T/Superintendent Emma Brice and Sergeant Tom Carter, our leads for rural crime, to discuss the vulnerabilities and crime types which are specific to rural areas. Sussex Police has a small rural crime team compared to other forces, albeit their model is that every officer should be trained to deal with rural incidents.
What struck me most is that Parliament and County Hall need to help Emma and Tom to better stretch their resources. Why, for example, should it be that public footpaths, where catastrophic dog attacks on sheep have occurred, can still take 3 years for a minor route diversion to be granted? Why, as in Punnetts Town, is there a school on a busy road with no pedestrian crossing or lollipop lady to allow children and parents to travel safely to the playing field and car park? Why, for our county’s only slaughterhouse, do we allow the national vegan protest group ‘SAVE’ to disrupt legitimate business and inadvertently impact animal welfare, rather than, say, put an exclusion zone in similar to that rightly just granted to an abortion clinic in London?
On this latter point, I took my concerns to the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, who has promised to help. This business also operates a farm shop and cafe, as well as opening up to the public during lambing season and for our region’s main farming show. It has suffered from appalling intimidation and sabotage on the ground and online.
Whilst I respect free protest, this right should be balanced by responsibilities. This week in the House of Commons, I asked the Police Minister to deliver change. I suggested that protest groups like SAVE, who seek to disrupt legitimate business by obstructing the law, contribute towards the cost of policing their own disturbances, like football clubs and festivals which have to pay for policing. We cannot go on with a situation which sees officers diverted from other essential duties to police these matters, or they are not there at all because their resources are too stretched.
It is matters such as these, contentious as they are, which we have to stand up for if we want to help our local police team to help us.