A new initiative has been launched to help tackle rural crime in County Durham by encouraging the public to work with police.

The Rurali scheme, which has been awarded £205,000 by Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen, was launched by Durham Constabulary at Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The money is the largest grant to date dedicated to combatting rural crime, and has paid for two new dedicated Ruralwatch coordinators, plus a dedicated intelligence officer, who will capture and develop the intelligence gleaned from Ruralwatch WhatsApp groups, to assist in targeting offenders.

Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable, Rachel Bacon, who was at the launch, said: "Our communities are vital in helping us to tackle crime. They are our eyes and ears when it comes to the areas in which they live.

The Northern Farmer: THe launch of the new rural crime initiative, Rurali, at UTASS

"By encouraging them to report to us any suspicious activity, we can respond more effectively and work with them to make their communities even safer.”

Ruralwatch is a network of people in remote areas who report suspicious incidents and share intelligence with police in a bid to reduce and prevent crime.

Inspector Ed Turner, who overseas rural policing on behalf of Durham Constabulary, said: "The Ruralwatch members have already proved that sharing information and intelligence between themselves and the police is making an impact. Arrests have been made and property has been recovered – it just works. The Rurali initiative will provide a central hub and allow the intelligence to be captured and actioned.

“The public know the communities they live in better than anyone and will usually notice suspicious behaviour. Without the reporting of suspicious circumstances or crimes, it is difficult for the police to identify or tackle problem areas.

“I’m delighted that the rural communities that often feel isolated and vulnerable will now benefit from Rurali to help assist in reducing rural crime, the fear of crime and enable the police to target more effectively those who commit it.”

The objective is to encourage the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity or anomalies, and provide crime prevention advice.

Ms Allen said: “This is a significant investment that I hope will go a long way to strengthen the volunteer network who are helping us to deliver safer, stronger and more resilient communities by preventing, detecting and deterring crime."

UTASS manager and partner Bob Danby expressed enthusiasm for the enhanced collaboration between members and the police through Rurali, and hopes it motivates community involvement. "We initiated the first WhatsApp group a few years ago after a rural crime, realising the need for swift information circulation in the dales," he said.

“The new Rurali initiative fosters a valuable connection between police and rural watch groups, enhancing information flow. I'm pleased the police are taking such a proactive stance in working alongside us to help prevent these crimes.”

Farmer William Maughan added: "Living in the countryside can feel isolating, and this initiative provides much-needed support. The police and the PCC's commitment to rural areas is crucial, especially when targeted or damaged property can be intimidating and have a significant daily impact on farmers. This scheme is a very welcome step forward."

The force also wants to hear views on rural policing in the county via https://online1.snapsurveys.com/Rural_i_Jan24. Anyone who would like more information on Rurali should contact their local police station.