North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann has challenged the PSNI Chief Constable “to reinstate the much-needed Rural Crime Unit otherwise there is the potential for rural crime to become the next anti-social epidemic”.
Assemblyman Swann, the UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim Chairman, is a Past President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and a current member of the Stormont Agriculture Committee.
Assemblyman Swann’s challenge to the Chief Constable came after the PSNI admitted it has no Rural Crime Unit. It was among the issues to arise during a question-and-answer session involving the Province’s top police officer recently. Chief Constable George Hamilton posted responses to dozens of questions from members of the public via the web service Twitter.
He had invited internet users to submit their questions in the run-up to the event. One of those who had asked a question was Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann wrote: “How many officers are currently in the #PSNI Rural Crime Unit?” The chief constable responded: “There is no rural crime unit but it remains a priority in relevant areas and is tackled on a daily basis.”
Mr Swann then asked: “When was it disbanded – there was a lot of fanfare when it was established?” No reply was posted to this follow-up query.
After the event, Assemblyman Swann said: “I am gravely alarmed at disbandment of PSNIs Rural Crime Unit and I have asked for a meeting with the Justice Minister as a matter of urgency.
“It is totally unbelievable that this dedicated unit has been disbanded in the dark of night, while attacks on our elderly rural population are on the increase.
“Likewise, the latest NFU figures show that rural crime in Northern Ireland is now costing rural families £2.7 million in the last year, and that is only on thefts that have had insurance claims against them, as many rural thefts go unreported as the farmer can no longer chance or afford an increase to his insurance premium.
“The bottom line is that the Rural Crime Unit must be reinstated as a priority otherwise there is the dangerous potential for such crime to become the next anti-social epidemic,” said Assemblyman Swann.