End of an era for Farmwatch duo
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
The relaunch of a rural crimefighting scheme after 30 years also saw its founders take a step back. Martin Paul listened as tributes were paid to Peter and Gladys Stubbs when the new-look Ruralwatch was unveiled
A RURAL crime-busting group from the dale, which set the standards for the rest of the country, enjoyed a triple celebration last week.
Police, farmers and supporters gathered at Marwood Community Centre to celebrate 30 years of Farmwatch, pay tribute to two of its founding members and to mark its relaunch as Ruralwatch.
Peter and Gladys Stubbs, who led Farmwatch since its inception in 1989, stood down at the event.
Durham Constabulary chief constable Jo Farrell, acting chief executive of the police and crime commissioner’s office John Carling and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Guy Smith led tributes to the couple’s efforts.
Mr Smith told the couple: “As Woody Allen said, ‘when you want to get something done, first of all you have to turn up’ and often it is people like you, the doers of the world, that we are so reliant on to get the initiatives up and running.
“Can I pay tribute to that initiative you took 30 years ago – it must be a moment of pride to sit here and look at 30 years of hard work and the community assembling to pay tribute to you.
“The NFU is built on good people like you. Without you we would not exist.”
Ms Farrell added: “Gladys and Peter had the foresight, resilience and commitment to see things through.
“Thank you to both of you because you have taken the idea and you have worked with the police and other partners for years and years. Ed (Turner, Barnard Castle police inspector) is really bold in terms of how he approaches policing in this very rural area and he says we can only do this in partnership.
“It will only work where there is a bigger group of people like this. They are the eyes and ears of Farmwatch and those partnerships that keep people safe.
“You will continue to leave a fantastic legacy and I can see that by the commitment of the people here today.”
Mr and Mrs Stubbs reflected on the formation of the group which was borne out of a spate of crime in Teesdale.
Mr Stubbs said: “They were stealing barrows and farming equipment in general, such as tractor batteries, at the start, then they moved on to quad bikes and livestock.”
One of the earliest successes was when the couple noticed a van travelling across Folly Top.
Mrs Stubbs said: “We couldn’t believe the numbers were coming off the number plate– it was black tape they were using [to change their number plate].”
It became apparent that a lot of criminals were moving through the area and would have to cross the River Tees at one of five points – Middleton, Eggleston, Barnard Castle, Winston or Piercebridge – to get to their destination.
In one particular incident antiques worth more than £40,000 were recovered when there was information that a gang was coming through the dale.
Mr Stubbs said: “You got to know the rogues, so we had checkpoints along all the bridges. You have to have a lot of boots on the ground during night runs so you don’t miss much.
“It was 5am when they came over and as they came over the police were waiting for them. The police had been after that gang for quite a while.
“We never had a dull night on a Farmwatch night run.”
During its time, Farmwatch won a number of awards and the system has been copied across the country.
For their part in Farmwatch the couple were among the first civilians to receive the Chief Constable’s Commendation, an award normal reserved for officers, and Mr Stubbs was awarded an MBE for services to the community in 2012.
The gathering heard that rebranding Farmwatch to Ruralwatch aimed to encourage more people living in rural areas to come onboard.
Mr Smith said the role of such groups is becoming increasingly important due to the impact of rural crime both financially and on people’s mental health.
He said: “When you are trying to run a farm business in isolation, when you are permanently worried about crime, it really impacts on individuals.
“I am very conscious that rural crime is a mental health issue – when people live in isolated places, they feel vulnerable and they feel under threat, and that is no place to be, so the NFU is always keen to encourage farmer groups to come together and liaise with the police.”
However, he added that other areas also need to be addressed, including the updating of legislation, heavier penalties for those caught committing crime and for people to be more vigilant.
He said: “The bit of legislation that is best to be used for combatting poaching is the 1834 Game and Wildlife Act – that is 150 years old – so our message to politicians is that we want fit for purpose legislation and not antiquated old Victorian things that probably had the guillotine as the penalty.
“We also need good fines. Fly-tipping is a terrible way to treat the countryside and makes the place a real mess. For the fly-tipping community, it is often commercially attractive that a fifty quid fine is all they have to worry about.”
Mr Carling reaffirmed the police and crime commissioner’s commitment to tackling rural crime through ensuring neighbourhood policing is secure in the dale.
Mr Stubbs said that while he is retiring as chairman, he would continue to support Ruralwatch. He said: “We are still going to do night runs and such, and anything we can do to help we will. We won’t be hanging up our radios just yet.”
As for 30 years at the helm, he concluded: “It needed to be done and everyone helped each other. It has worked out better than we expected at the start. We are rather chuffed in a quiet sort of way.”