A police initiative using anti-social behaviour legislation as well as equine law to combat fly-grazing with huge success has been hailed as an example to forces across the country.
The number of reports of unattended equines in Bishop Auckland fell from about 1,000 in 2017-18 to 169 this year as of the end of October.
Durham Constabulary neighbourhood inspector Andy Reeves told H&H residents’ lives were being blighted by the issue.
“This is about the safety of the public,” Mr Reeves said. “I used to be that officer, when we were getting four calls a day about horses, thinking, ‘Why isn’t there something to deal with this?’
“It was about really understanding the problem and saying, ‘What do we have available that we might not have had before?’”
Mr Reeves and his team used new anti-social behaviour legislation that allows officers to issue warning notices to people over “community concerns”. Fly-grazing and stray horses come under this owing to the impact they can have on people’s lives.
“The notices give people a positive and a negative, so ‘You must do this, but you must not do that’,” Mr Reeves explained, adding that the force had carried out extensive research, including on past incidents, to ensure the notices were going to the right people.
“Initially, people probably thought the notices were just bits of paper and within a week or two, they’d breached the conditions,” Mr Reeves said.
It was at this point the team’s previous work under equine legislation came into play. As officers had “laid the foundations” by organising mass microchipping days and engaging with owners among the travelling community, they then, when the notices were breached, knew who to go to.
“This gave us the evidence to say ‘we know you’ve breached your notice’,” he said.
“We’ve bought scanners, we knew who owned the horses, so we could go to the full notice. It’s similar, with positives and negatives, but it doesn’t expire, and if you breach the conditions, it’s a fine or a court appearance.”
Mr Reeves said the sanctions at this point include a banning or a criminal behaviour order, and as the thinking was those responsible would not want to be banned from keeping horses, this was the option they took.
“This is why we think it’s worked,” he said. “It’s not 100% foolproof, but it’s had a massive impact.”
Other conditions of notices can include that if the horse is sold, the owner must update its details — so if someone tries to say he has sold it without doing this, he is also in breach of the notice.
Mr Reeves said the work would not have been possible without the British Horse Society and World Horse Welfare, with which he has been working.
World Horse Welfare deputy chief executive Tony Tyler told H&H: “What was achieved in Bishop Auckland demonstrates that when police use their powers to actively enforce fly-grazing and equine identification laws, everybody wins. In too many cases equine crime is not considered as a whole, but as individual instances of horses dumped to die, ponies neglected on village greens and horses wandering the roads — all due to their invisible and irresponsible owners.
“Collectively, this not only causes horse welfare problems but blights communities, drains police of resources and wastes hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ money. We encourage all police across the country to take the decisive action Bishop Auckland has, for everyone’s benefit.”
Kent Police’s inspector Dave Smith, the national lead for equine crime, spoke of the project at the World Horse Welfare conference this year.
He said: “The conference was an excellent event to showcase the effective partnership work that is being done in England and Wales.
“Congratulations to Andy and the Durham partnership for this outstanding work in reducing fly-grazing and neglect”.
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