I was just thinking... about rural crime

Greenhouse windows were smashed by vandals

Greenhouse windows were smashed by vandals - Credit: Archant

I WAS JUST THINKING … about rural crime.

They have a softer edge to them than do the words urban crime. Who else, when thinking about law-breaking in our cities has visions of youths knifing each other in the streets, house breaking, mugging, car theft and general lawlessness? Do we, I wonder, have the same crimes in mind when we consider criminality in the countryside? And do we think they occur in the same number?

The figures for Hertfordshire make fascinating reading. Certainly, the raw data confirms that the closer you get to the urban centres of Stevenage and Watford, the higher the level and the more serious the nature of reported crime. Conversely, the leafy glades of the North Hertfordshire’s Arbury ward (Ashwell, Bygrave, Hinxworth and Newnham) are virtually crime free.

The month of April saw a total reported crime figure for the ward of just five transgressions – two thefts from a shop, two other thefts and one incidenct of fraud and forgery. The figures are those published by Hertfordshire Constabulary and are freely available on the internet – http://www.herts.police.uk/hertfordshire_constabulary /about_us/crime_figures.aspx

The local media, including this august organ to whose pages I contribute, tend to give the impression that we live in a lawless age. And that that lawlessness is ubiquitous. Only last week did we see a Crow front page headline blazoning ‘Vandals strike at allotments site’.

Crime makes good copy and is dramatic. The story itself is a bit more prosaic. The broken greenhouse panes, litter and dog mess, not being ‘criminal damage to a dwelling, other building or a vehicle (Categories 58A, B and C)’ would probably amount to no more than a mark being chalked up against Category 58D – other criminal damage. It was one of eight reported cases of all criminal damage for the whole of Royston in April. In case you were wondering, 28 per cent of these crimes have outcomes – presumably convictions. In summary, it’s not much crime, not much of which gets solved.

Not that, in any way, I underestimate the effect that, individually, these crimes have on the victims. Anyone who has had a break-in at his or her house (or dwelling as the Home Office, with punctilious correctness, identifies it) knows exactly what an invasion of privacy it represents. It is to be presumed that the burning of hayricks and stealing of livestock has exactly the same effect on the rural dweller as breaking and entering does on the town or city inhabitant. You and your environment feel violated.

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But my point is that, perhaps, we overreact to the perceived peril, when in fact there is comparatively little peril to be had in our rural patch.

It is that perception that determines so much about the way we conduct our lives. We barricade our windows, we install burglar alarms, our cars (sorry, vehicles) have immobiliser things, we freeze mark our horses, we install closed circuit television in our towns and villages and on our farm buildings in order to try and repel the attentions of unwanted intruders or thwart the ambition of would-be criminals.

We have worked ourselves up into a frenzy of self-protection. But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps all our precautionary actions have been the deterrent that has kept the crime statistics in our neck of the woods reasonably low. Chicken or egg?