30 years of tackling rural crime across Teesdale
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
PREPARATIONS are underway to mark the 30th anniversary of England’s first Farmwatch scheme.
Teesdale took the lead in fighting rural crime in 1989 when farmers became fed up with being targeted by thieves.
Since then it has set the benchmark, taking national awards for its activities.
At the helm as chairman for the past 29 years has been Kinninvie farmer Peter Stubbs.
He said: “I can remember when you could go out in the morning and leave you doors open. A lot of people didn’t lock their back door when they went to sleep.
“Then little things got taken. Things like tractor batteries.
“A lot of stuff you didn’t notice until you needed it.
“We decided we were not going to tolerate stuff being stolen. We were not going to put up with the thieving.”
In those days Barnard Castle police station was manned 24 hours a day and farmers could ring in at any time to report suspicious activity and get a quick response.
Mr Stubbs said: “Things have altered a lot since we started. They work differently now.
“No doubt they still do a good job, but there are too few of them. They are being cut to shreds. You can’t believe in the change in numbers.”
Despite the challenges, the crime-busting group remains active and regularly holds operations which attract vast support from those living in rural communities.
Mr Stubbs recollects one of their first operations which netted about £45,000 worth of stolen items, including vehicles led to about a dozen arrests.
He said farmers were reacting to police information when they took up positions in various parts of the dale, particularly along bridges cross the River Tees, to watch for the gang as they made their way back to Witton Park from North Yorkshire and Cumbria.
He added: “So we knew they were out raiding but we didn’t know when. They weren’t in convoy, they all came back separately.
“These vehicles went through different checkpoints.
“It was a well planned operation for us and they all got caught.
“There were eight vehicles involved so there were well over 20 rogues.
“It was five in the morning, some of the lads went back to milking their cows – that was the commitment the members have.
“They will come out at any time. If there is an incident there are so many people in this area and they will come out. Everybody cares.
“It has been a challenging escapade over the 30 years but we have had some good laughs.”
Along the way the group has been recognised by being awarded the Durham County Council Chairman’s Medal, the NFU Country Crime Fighters Award, and a national Neighbourhood Watch Community Scheme award.
Mr Stubbs also received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year honours.
Along with organising operations, the group has been responsible for its own funding and in the early days held major events to raise cash for new radios.
Mr Stubbs’ wife Gladys and other members were instrumental in collecting some £20,000 through holding various events, including two horse and pony events.
Mrs Stubbs said: “I’ve never known so many horses and ponies. It took a lot of setting up but at the end of the two years it was worth it.”
In 1997, the farmers had their first radios in their vehicles.
Later, another horse event was held at Streatlam on property owned by long-time Farmwatch supporter Capt Nigel Pease.
Half of the £2,200 raised that day went to a riding for the disabled group while the rest went to the day-to-day running of Farmwatch.
Mr Stubbs said: “Capt Pease let us have his parkland to run a full day cross country event. There were over 100 horses on it. It was a tremendous help. That was a wonderful day we had at Capt Pease’s. It was one of those days you remembered.”
Among the activities was watching a police superintendent ride a horse for the first time.
Mr Stubbs said: “One of the girls taught him to ride. He was a good sport.”
While other Farmwatch groups across the country have folded or are fading away, Teesdale’s group continues to be strong and numbers on operations are as healthy as ever.
Mr Stubbs paid tribute to members as well as the board, which includes treasurer Peter Atkinson and secretary Joanne Bainbridge.
Also critical to the team is vice-chairman John Bradwell who manages the Weardale side of Farmwatch.
Mr Stubbs said: “He used to rattle to police cages, still does. He is as sound as a pound.”
As for next year’s celebration Mr Stubbs said: “We are going to have a social and a bit of a do because 30 years is an important milestone.”