Some readers may be interested in a recent experience I had. I was walking around with the gun late one evening to pot a couple of rabbits when, tucked away in a little spinney, hidden by the maize, I saw a small tent. There was nobody visible, but it was clearly occupied.
I decided caution was needed so on getting home I emailed the police 101 at Lewes. Shortly afterwards an email came back by auto reply, suggesting that if I had any concerns I should ring 999. As I was actually quite concerned, I rang; a lady answered, listened to what I was ringing about, decided it wasn’t important, and to told me to “Ring Lewes’ non-urgent phone line”! I think I said to her that if nobody came from the police, I would go around with my shotgun, because I had no inclination to approach this unknown on my own. She told me I mustn’t do that – or words to that effect.
Knowing how long the 101 takes to respond, I did ring, waiting 22 minutes, and spoke to an officer, who said he would alert our local station.
The next morning, I waited for a visit or a call. My concern was over the kind of person who would set up a camp where he could escape attention for many weeks? It could be anyone, from a potential terrorist or a paedophile child molester on one extreme to a youth and his young girlfriend or…. well, you maybe understand my concern? The police ask you to let them know of unusual sightings and this was unusual. I didn’t fancy a knife being thrust at me when I startled the occupant.
No-one appeared from the local station that day, so I again emailed my concern to Lewes and again got the same response so, by the third day, I really did expect to hear something. Yet again, nothing; the tent was still there and there was sign of night-time activity, yet it remained sealed. I looked up the Sussex Police website and found the Chief Constable’s email to explain the story and the lack of interest from his officers. That email came back as an ‘unused address’ and at the same time it was announced he had stepped down. It did give another address to whom I forwarded my message, but I’ve still had no reply!
That night I quietly checked the tent was still there, and as I walked home it started to rain, lightly.
Still nothing from the police. The next morning I went out early to find the tent gone and, surprisingly, the site tidy. Just to be sure, I walked round and noticed fresh footprints, so followed them back to the farm buildings. Walking quietly round, I discovered the same tent, re-erected in the middle of a large empty barn. Half an hour later, Wally, my ex Stockman, arrived, so I signalled him to quietly follow me. By now we had sticks.
We approached the tent and I called for whoever was there to come out. Slowly the sides of the tent moved, and a young man half emerged, looking like a stunned rabbit. He said he was visiting friends “over the road” and was “going back to London that evening”. He had what Wally and I took to be a girl in the tiny tent; we didn’t get her to show herself but he promised to move and he seemed a decent lad. The rain had forced them to move.
That evening he was as good as his word. We felt easier, but still nothing from Sussex Police! By the next day things had returned to normal.
The following morning two female police officers appeared and apologised for taking so long (five days!) to respond. They asked to see where this had occurred so I pointed them to the site. As we approached it, I looked in amazement. The tent was back! I had a dental appointment in 20 minutes so left the officers to take over, and by mid-morning the tent and occupants were finally gone, not to return.
‘Fast Forward’ four days and I had a call from a woman in the firearm officers’ department, I think in Lewes, basically to tell me “I had mentioned taking my gun round to some intruders last week”. The lady was not in the least interested in the outcome of the original problem. She was obsessed with the fact I had even mentioned visiting the site with my gun. If the police were too lazy to come, while treating my written and subsequent calls with disinterest, then, I had said, I might take my gun round to visit the tent myself. That seemed worse to her than if I had gone and woken some unknown up, in a hidden tent, trespassing with no permission, and had had a knife stuck in me… Nor was there any concern about the delay in the police response time.
The fact remains that farmers’ problems are generally treated with little interest by Sussex Police; many countrywide will have experienced similar issues. We, as citizens, are told to report anything unusual to the police, but when we do there is frequently zero response.
We often hear, after some serious incident, armchair experts, politicians and the police themselves say: “It must never happen again” or “Lessons must be learned”. But they never are. Many rural dwellers have lost their respect for the service, but it’s not that we haven’t tried. They appear to have a poorly staffed phone line and seem unable to organise their hard-stretched officers on the beat.
Once the police was a service which had the public’s full respect. Unfortunately that is no longer the case; it is serious and worrying.