Farmer’s urgent plea to tackle rural crime

Darlington and Stockton Times: APPEAL: Russell Toothill spoke about his fight against rural crime APPEAL: Russell Toothill spoke about his fight against rural crime

ONE farmer’s battle against intimidation, threats and thefts was told to a regional rural crime conference.

Russell Toothill farms on the urban edge of Doncaster and has suffered years of crime – everything from the minor to the serious and frightening.

He told how a neighbour called police after finding two stolen tractors in one of his sheds – the next day he woke to find a dead horse at his gate.

The man – Mr Toothill’s best man at his wedding – was badly affected and, just a few days later, suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Mr Toothill was speaking at last week’s regional Rural Crime Conference held by the North East National Farmer’s Union at Hardwick Hall Hotel, Sedgefield.

The conference attracted 150 delegates including farmers and police from all seven forces in the region.

He explained how, in 2006, travellers illegally moved 90 horses on to his land and – despite repeatedly raising the issue with police, local authorities, politicians and even Parliamentary committees – they are still there.

When he first tried to have them removed he was threatened and was subject to a minor assault.

His landlord faced so much intimidation and attempted extortion that he hired security guards to protect his family and home and eventually left the area.

Mr Toothill said council officials who tried to tackle the horses had some initial success but then went quiet after being followed home and intimidated.

At the height of foot and mouth movement restrictions horses were being moved on and off the land next to his sheep, some from as far as London.

Mr Toothill has spent £10,000 on security measures including cameras and microphones. His machinery and equipment is all fitted with anti-crime and tracking devices.

Nothing is left out in the fields and even gates and gate posts have to be extra securely fastened in place.

Off-road riders in 4x4s often drove through smaller hedges until he dug deep trenches along them, and off-road motor bikers have set fire to vegetation to escape being caught.

He stopped growing willow coppice for a power station after £25,000 of stacked material awaiting collection was burnt.

Fences have been damaged and his sheep once got among a neighbour’s carrots which resulted in a £40,000 insurance claim.

Fly-tippers have dumped everything from bags of dog excrement to 29-tonne loads of waste. Crops have been trampled by uncaring dog walkers who often hurl threats and verbal abuse when challenged.

Mr Toothill said the majority of people were law abiding but more must be done to clamp down on the others.

Police had seen some success using mountain bikes and off-road motorbikes.

A joint approach by the local water company and council saw security guards hired to stop people swimming in a dangerous flooded quarry – one summers day saw 127 turned away.

Mr Toothill called for police, councils and politicians to work closer with farmers and rural communities.

He said: “I used to think I could cope with anything that was thrown at me, but I’m now 60 and slowing down a bit and when I am confronted by a young criminal waving a spanner two inches from my nose I can’t handle it quite the way I used to.

“There are farmers who dare not leave their homes, particularly at night and I do not want to see one more death from intimidation.

“I appeal to politicians, councils and police to work together to make rural areas less of a soft target for crime."

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