SPECIAL REPORT: Police patrol across ‘mecca of hare coursing’ is a big challenge
Police responsible for the safety of the South Holland and Deepings farming community have adopted a “proportionate, firm and fair” approach to the menace of hare coursing.
All the evidence provided by a half-day patrol with Operation Galileo police officers on Saturday, along with the sometimes life-threatening challenges they face, suggests that such a strategy by Lincolnshire Police may be a wise one.
Make no mistake about it, intimidation, vandalism, harassment, victimisation, reckless driving and even violence are increasingly the tools of the trade for the “modern day hare courser”.
Chief Inspector Jim Tyner, tactical lead officer for Operation Galileo, said: “I’ve been dealing with hare coursing for 25 years and whereas in the past hare coursers would wait for us to walk across the fields with a summons for them to appear in court, now they invariably drive across the fields to get away from us.
“Modern day hare coursers are more willing to use violence and be reckless with their driving in a way that would put our officers and other road users at risk.
“The manner of their driving is similar to that you would see in a gang escaping from an armed robbery and some hare coursers have links with organised crime gangs.
“We’ll continue to evolve our methods and tactics to counter that by targeting the right people, a very hard core of hare coursers who are coming into county, with our policy of seizing dogs, which has deterred a lot of them.”
Saturday saw police from three counties, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, mount a day of action against hare coursers intent on pursuing their illegal pastime.
Officers armed with body-worn cameras, all-terrain 4x4 vehicles, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, microchip scanners to trace the owners of dogs and a drone equipped with thermal imaging capacity were all available for use by the Operation Galileo team.
Sergeant (Sgt) Nick Waters, Community Beat Sergeant for South Holland who was commended last year for disarming a knifeman in Crowland, said: “South Holland is the mecca of hare coursing because the land we’ve got here, with its vast, open and flat fields, is the ideal grounds on which they can carry out their activities.
“Hare coursers don’t want hills or hedgerows, they need a place where there is a good population of the brown hare, good visibility and the ground is nicely ploughed.
”Your typical hare coursers are middle-aged males, some of whom see it as a God-given right to come down from where they live and go across other people’s fields.
“They take umbrage with anybody who tries to challenge them, with the view that ‘I’m not doing anyone any harm’.”
It took 90 minutes for police to make their first, significant find of an estate car parked outside a pub in Northborough, near Market Deeping.
Inside were two grey Lurchers, one with a scar on its nose, along with binoculars and slip leads, all seen as tell-tale signs of a hare courser.
PC James Perring, South Holland’s rural and wildlife crime officer, said: “If hare coursers are fairly confident they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t, we may get a bit of verbal abuse from them.
“But if they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong, they’ll just stop and chat to us about all the ‘wrong hare coursers who are giving us a bad name’.”
The main “action” finally came with a report of hare coursers on a field near the former Blue Bell Inn, Deeping St Nicholas.
Police tried to block the vehicle in but with no clear way of escape, it drove straight across the field and within inches of one of Lincolnshire Police’s new Ford Kugas.
PC Perring said: “There’ll be people who’ll say ‘ram them off the road’.
“But at the back of my mind, I always ask myself ‘what could go wrong’?
“Public safety is our number one priority and we have a duty to look after all road users.”
Ultimately, the success or otherwise of Saturday’s hare coursing day of action is measured by the farmers and their families most at risk from intimidation and violence.
One farmer, not named for their own safety, said: “I’m an innocent party affected by illegal hare coursers who are operating outside of the law.
“But I feel safer now that the 999 service is better.”