Only a matter of time before someone is killed …

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It is only a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously injured by gangs of illegal hare-coursers operating across the fens.

That’s the view of local farmers, who say these criminal groups are making their lives a misery. Crops have been damaged, gates smashed and farmers threatened.

And the problem is moving into the wider community, say farmers, as this week, a Thorney man narrowly escaped serious injury in a crash at the traffic lights by the Rose & Crown (see pictures).

Three men were arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving following the collision between a Subaru Impreza and a Vauxhall Astra. It followed a call to police about a gang hare-coursing on land off Thorney Dyke. Three people aged 17, 18 and 42 were arrested and bailed.

There have been other incidents in Thorney. A car being pursued by police was clocked driving at more than 70mph through the village and there have been two reported instances where cars have been driven at dangerous speeds around village estates. One, on Sandpit Road, was next to the Duke of Bedford Primary School.

“They know that police won’t pursue them at speed through the village,” said a local farmer. “So the first thing they do when police are spotted is head through Thorney to get away. The bypass has made things much worse because they can escape at speed in a number of different directions.”

The Thorney Post has been approached by three local farmers to highlight the problem and all have asked for their names to be withheld for fear of reprisals.

All have direct experience of being threatened by hare-coursers and all know other farmers with similar experiences.

There is a long history of hare-coursing in the fens, but the practice has moved from catching a hare for the pot to big-money betting. Hare-coursing gangs arrange for one dog to be pitched against another with thousands of pounds bet on which dog makes the kill over a number of rounds. The gangs use powerful four-wheel-drive cars like Subarus or Honda CR-Vs to follow the dog and film the hunt.

Gates are smashed to get access to land and damage to crops can easily run into hundreds, even thousands, of pounds.

“The problem is much worse this year. Hares had a successful breeding season in 2016 and there are a lot about,” said one farmer.

“The gangs come from as far afield as Kent and even Scotland. Thorney and Newborough seem to have been the centre of a lot of activity this year. They like it because the land is flat, there are lots of tracks where they can gain access and the soft soil means the dog is less likely to be injured. Dogs can be worth as much as £20,000.”

During November, there were 20 incidents of hare-coursing reported to police and by mid-December another 14 incidents. “These are just the ones that are reported, many more are happening.”

Farmers say police resources are too limited and the laws are not robust enough. “We’re fighting organised criminal gangs with 200-year-old laws intended to stop poaching and there are five policemen throughout the whole of Cambridgeshire who are dedicated to rural crime.

“It simply isn’t enough. These gangs have no respect for property or for people’s safety. If farmers try to intervene, we’re threatened with violence, if they’re being pursued by police, speed limits or red lights mean nothing to them.

“It is only a matter of time before someone is killed.”

People are being urged to report any incidents witnessed. “If you see hare-coursers in action or vehicles being driven dangerously, call 999; if you have other information, call 101.

“Police resources are directly linked to the number of calls being made. It’s only by the whole community acting against this threat that the gangs can be defeated.”

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