Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Monday, 14 May 2012 17:10 UK

Agri-Crime

The police response to agri-crime is "completely inadequate", a DUP MLA told the assembly, on 14 May 2012.

David McIlveen brought a motion to the house calling on the justice minister to ensure that the perpetrators of theft towards the farming community received the maximum possible sentences.

He said he brought the debate with an "element of regret" as such crimes were increasing and were "sapping the life-blood from farming communities".

The motion also asked for the Department of Justice to provide clear advice on the extent to which land owners were permitted to legally and safely defend their property.

Mr McIlveen said he was concerned a "vigilante justice" was emerging.

"The Department of Justice must take action to help rural communities counter this trend," he said.

"I fear some farmers will take matters into their own hands."

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan said the Ulster Farmers Union had estimated that more than 6,000 sheep were stolen in Northern Ireland in 2011.

"Police do not, I don't think, treat the rural crime seriously enough", he said.

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson said the theft of agriculture machinery was costing the industry millions of pounds every year.

"There is not yet an effective deterrent in place to stem the tide on rural crime," she said.

Sean Rogers of the SDLP said agri-crime had moved "from a largely opportunistic crime to a highly organised activity".

Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party said he would be unable to support the DUP motion as he felt that the sentences currently given reflected the crime.

"Crimes against our rural community must be met with sentences that appropriately reflect their severity and the disgust felt by our community, but with this in mind, we must recognise that the decisions must remain a matter for the judiciary who look at all the circumstances of each case within the context of the legal framework and the sentencing guidelines," he said.

Mr Dickson also added that the matter of defence of property was a "very sensitive one".

Responding to the debate, Justice Minister David Ford said "building safer rural communities" was a priority for his department although he said he was not responsible for deciding on appropriate sentences.

"These are issues for the Chief Constable and not me as minister," he said.

He said he would consider the possibility of a change regarding the force used against intruders.

The motion was passed on an oral vote.

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