The Ulster Farmers’ Union says the latest rural crime statistics underline the need for tougher action when criminals are brought before the courts.
“For some time we have been critical of the lenient sentences handed down by the courts, and we have been pressing for a change of approach,” said the UFU president. He added the situation is worsened here by the ability of thieves to take livestock and expensive machinery across the border, despite recent cooperation by the police and respective agriculture department to prevent this happening.
“We welcome initiatives such as trailer marking, freeze branding livestock and the use of tracker devices on tractors and other machinery. However we remain unhappy that despite the efforts of farmers to make their property secure, and the efforts of the PSNI, the sentences the courts hand out do not reflect an attitude that this is a crime that needs to be taken seriously,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU says it recognises that in an era when all public sector budgets are under pressure that there are limits to what the PSNI can do to protect the countryside, which by definition is open. “We would however like to see more cooperation between the police and the authorities on both sides of the border, so that they can target criminals more effectively.
“We also believe the Department of Justice needs to amend sentencing guidelines for the courts. These are crimes that need to be taken seriously, because of the social and economic damage they create – and the fact that we know that if confronted criminals are prepared to use violence,” said Mr Bell.