A £25,000 portable toilet is among the items worth an estimated quarter of a million pounds seized by a new police taskforce set up to tackle rural crime across the Thames Valley.

Insp Stuart Hutchings, the man in charge of the new 20-officer unit, said the rural crime taskforce would ‘focus on the offenders’ making farmers’ lives a misery – and use things like Proceeds of Crime Act powers to seize cash and other assets.

The task force has two drones and can call on its own intelligence team in order to tackle countryside crimes like farm equipment theft, hare coursing and wildlife crime.


Insp Stuart Hutchings of the Thames Valley Police rural crime taskforce

Insp Stuart Hutchings of the Thames Valley Police rural crime taskforce


“As a force, our neighbourhood teams are already doing great work, but through the rural crime taskforce we’re spending that extra time focusing on the offenders, focusing on those hot spots and then going out to the offenders,” Mr Hutchings said.

“We’ve seized around quarter of a million pounds worth of assets [since the taskforce’s launch in December]. We’ve seized around 32 different trailers, vehicles and what’s interesting about that is of the items we’ve recovered they come from over 10 different forces around the country and some of them were stolen as long as 10 years ago.

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“It shows the business, the market of second-hand trailers and vans moves around so it’s really important for us that we understand that picture of crime.”

The taskforce could be dealing with anything from men and dogs travelling into the Thames Valley to hunt hares with dogs to organised gangs stealing tractors or expensive agricultural GPS systems and fencing the equipment to Europe or further afield.

Already, the officers have seized thousands of pounds’ worth of Persian rugs suspected to have been stolen, porcelain worth £20,000 thought to be funded through a life of crime – and a luxury portable toilet discovered near Reading.

Mr Hutchings said of the latter: “It didn’t look right, we got into it. The owner had been paid out by the NFU, we made contact with them and by the end of the day they were coming down [from the North of England] to get it.”


The portable toilet block recovered by Thames Valley Police Picture: TVP

The portable toilet block recovered by Thames Valley Police Picture: TVP


Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber, who promised a focus on rural crime in his plan for the Thames Valley force, said he was ‘quite happy’ to see an increase in reported rural crime figures.

“One of the issues we’ve got is around under-reporting. Increasing the number of people reporting crime is not a bad thing,” he said.

Farmer Alex Nelms, the new county chairman for the National Farmers Union, said the equipment being stolen – and the thieves taking it – were becoming more sophisticated.

READ MORE: A single sheep among items stolen in rural theft in Tackley

“We’ve got farm machinery, it’s getting more and more expensive to do our livelihoods. For us it’s crops, for others it’s livestock. Things like hare coursing can be a real menace.

“It’s getting more sophisticated because the things that are getting nicked are increasingly more portable.


Alex Nelms of the National Farmers Union

Alex Nelms of the National Farmers Union


“We hear of equipment being removed and then being locked up somewhere while the crime gang tries to suss out whether its being tracked or not,” he said. “They’re becoming more aware.

“A long time ago we used to deal with a burnt out car every other week because car systems were not very good.

“It’s not just the equipment, it’s the anxiety and the stress when your farm is your home and someone has been into your home to steal something that’s not just valuable but also likely to [affect] your livelihood.”

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