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PCC vows to clamp down on rural crime in West Berkshire

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There were 8,220 crimes reported in West Berkshire in the year to August 2021.

The biggest chunk of those were violent crime - 2,941 of them, and homophobic and religious incidents are also showing a marked increase.

Harassment offences leapt by 33.6 per cent, with 1,094 cases. Public order offences increased by 121 per cent, while drug trafficking went up by more than 34 per cent.

While the overall figures have dipped by 2.4 per cent on the previous year, it is still food for thought for Matthew Barber who was elected as the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner in May.

It is a political appointment – Mr Barber is in on a Tory ticket. So far, there is no reported evidence that PCCs are systematically ‘politicising policing’, which was the great fear prior to their introduction by Theresa May nine years ago.

Mr Barber gets paid £86,700 a year to make the police answerable to the communities they serve.

On his first 100 days in office, he said he was "enjoying getting stuck in" to the role.

Mr Barber has already made himself comfortable at the Kiddlington Police HQ by moving in a shabby chic but "very comfy" green sofa into his office.

Dressed in the smart, casual country tweed way of a confident up-and-coming Conservative politician, he brushed off the prospect of a parliamentary career, saying he can get more done in this role than as an MP.

He gets paid £5,000 more a year than an MP too. His salary is set by the Home Office.

“Thames Valley is a vast area. It is 2,200 square miles with a huge number of individual towns, cities and villages," he said. "The difference between the areas is stark in wealth and in demographics. Even within a small geographical area. Different parts of West Berkshire are more prosperous than others and have different problems with crime.

“We need to focus on the needs of each community, recognising there is no one size fits all.”

He says one of the biggest areas of crime in West Berkshire is rural crime, adding that Thames Valley is launching a new rural crime task force.

He also spoke of rural community crime WhatsApp groups to help improve intelligence gathering.

“What might appear to some as a relatively small crime like hare coursing for example, can be part of serious organised crime networks,” he said.

“In Newbury and Hungerford there are issues around drugs and anti-social behaviour."

In working with local councils to improve street lighting and adding in hot spot patrols by police officers he hopes to deter such crimes.

“In Newbury the challenges are the same as other market towns with county lines drug dealing," he added.

“We know how devastating that can be on young people’s lives as it often comes with violence and exploitation. This is not just about local policing but also using our regional crime squads to detect those gangs and cut the head off the snake.

“The way we deal with anti-social behaviour in our town centres has to be done in partnership as often this falls below the level of criminality.

“How we measure success in areas like rural crime is difficult. I’d like to see more people come forward, and would actually welcome those crime figures going up as it would demonstrate this and create an increased confidence in the police. I think we need to look at trends rather than specific figures.”

He said that West Berkshire was one of the safest areas in the Thames Valley, which in itself was a relatively safe place to live.

“Thankfully, most people won’t become a victim of crime here," he said. "But it is important that we ensure the public have confidence in the police so they don’t live in fear of crime. Often it is not about your own experiences but what you hear around. The fear of crime can be as bad as the crime itself.”

Mr Barber lives in Oxfordshire, is married to Katie and has two children and a Labrador.

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