Rural community ‘knows gangs’

The PSNI on rural patrol
The PSNI on rural patrol

The farming community in counties Down and Armagh believe they know the members of a number of criminal gangs which are terrorising them, it is claimed.

The news came after police said they were exploring links between three recent Co Down burglaries involving five men with local accents, armed with a gun or screwdriver.

One Co Down man told the News Letter he had a tractor and a piece of machinery stolen recently worth a combined £70,000.

“The tractor was found two weeks later in Bessbrook,” he said.

“Three weeks ago they found the machine at Ravens-dale, over the border.”

He suspects “men from the Dromara area who are well known to police” are involved in much, but not necessarily all, rural crime in Co Down.

“There are rings of them working together from one area to another. I think paramilitaries from both sides are organising it at the top but are keeping their hands clean.”

Newry and Armagh MLA Willie Irwin said three tractors were stolen in four days this month in a two-mile radius around Loughgall.

“There is a small but very active gang operating from Armagh city and south Armagh areas,” he says.

“When they are brought before the courts they are just walking away.

“They are not paramilitaries but have no fear of the law.

“They are from both sides of the community and are from farming backgrounds.

“But farming is too much like hard work for them. Almost all these criminals are known to police. The problem is gaining evidence.

“One guy known to us is just driving into people’s yards, teasing them. But because he has done nothing wrong police can’t touch him.”

He added: “If £30,000 to £50,000 was being stolen in bank robberies on a daily basis there would be an outcry. But because it is happening to the farming community nobody really bothers with it.”

UFU deputy president Barclay Bell said: “It is an issue that deserves to be tackled head on.”

He added that “it is not just opportunistic” and that there was “ample evidence” that many items are being stolen to order, leading them to suspect organised crime is on the rise.

He is asking farmers to report all incidences of theft and any suspicious behaviour to the PSNI, ensure premises are well lit, and that gates and doors are securely locked.

Mr Bell also recommended farmers to use their local PSNI crime prevention officer to help protect property, livestock, machinery and equipment.

The PSNI said they recently recovered a slurry tanker, cash and cattle during raids in Armagh, Milford and Granemore.

Chief Inspector Joe McMinn said: “We met with members of the rural community recently and reinforced our commitment to tackling this type of crime.

“These searches are just one strand of our strategy to tackle rural crime and I hope that it provides some reassurance.”