Amorous horses and re-assuring farmers: All in a night's work for rural Shropshire police

Speeding over a Shropshire beauty spot, chatting to farmers about farm and vehicle security – and amorous horses in front of a police car.

Front, Steve Grant (Safer Neighbourhood Officer) with team: Beth Hinton, George Edwards, Darren Barnett, Alan Smith, Steve Mellor, Stuart Coote and Shaun Culliss.
Front, Steve Grant (Safer Neighbourhood Officer) with team: Beth Hinton, George Edwards, Darren Barnett, Alan Smith, Steve Mellor, Stuart Coote and Shaun Culliss.

That – and much more – is all in a night's work for West Mercia Police's safer neighbourhood teams in South West Shropshire.

While most readers were getting their beauty sleep on Friday the Shropshire Star joined a team of eight officers at Ludlow Police Station.

It was for Operation Whitebeam, involving a 7.30pm briefing and night patrols until 2am across hundreds of miles of the beautiful south of the county.

Operation Whitebeam is all about responding to the worries and concerns of 36 parishes in their massive area.

A briefing with Safer Neighbourhood officer Steve Grant

Each of the councils submits its top three concerns, which includes thefts from farms, as part of West Mercia Police's Community Charter promises to the community.

Police promise to keep an eye out for those concerns, be it speeding, antisocial behaviour or any other matters raised.

Then they get back to the parishes and either reassure them that there isn't an issue, or escalate it. They say fear of crime is often greater than actual crime in rural areas.

Top of the list on Friday was responding to thefts of livestock and farm vehicles in the area, and the officers were keen to let the public know that they are out there, keeping an eye on property.

"Residents often say they never see a police officer," said PC Steve Grant as we drove around the narrow lanes of south Shropshire in Caynham, Diddlebury, and Stanton Lacy. "But we do get out here."

PCSO Beth Hinton, 29, sat in the passenger seat keeping an eye on her laptop for the latest knowledge.

They met one farm worker riding an off-road bike who was happy to stop and chat to PC Grant about security matters, and to be signed up to the police force's Neighbourhood Matters newsletter.

They also checked farm gates, farm vehicles left on their own, and a village hall for signs of any criminal activity.

For PC Grant, 42, the five minutes spent talking to the farmer was a valuable encounter as "he will tell people about seeing police in the area" and help get the message out that the police are interested.

Officers said no journey is a waste of time if it addresses something that concerns the community. One recent report of suspicious activity in Bishop's Castle turned out to involve a scrap collector, but the officers were happy to look into it to put worried locals' minds at rest.

For PCSO Hinton it is a "rewarding job" because she can help people feel more secure, especially people who have previously been victims of crime. The officers check up on recent sites of burglaries and thefts to try to reassure victims that they have their backs.

Stunningly even in this day and age, some residents and farmers still leave their homes and property unlocked. Officers make a point of reminding people that it only takes a few seconds for an opportunist thief to steal. They spoke of one farmer who always leaves keys in the ignition of valuable vehicles, as it is a habit he hasn't been able to break.

The Shropshire Star's evening saw us spend a few hours with PC Grant and PCSO Hinton before swapping over to spend some time with PC Steve Mellor, 45, and Special Constable Alan Smith, 49, patrolling the Bishop's Castle area.

SC Smith is a trained probation officer who is now an adult social care inspector with the Care Quality Commission. He enjoys working with the public, as does PC Mellor, who was a PCSO for eight years before becoming a constable, a role he has now held for seven years.

On patrol in south Shropshire

Unfortunately the Shropshire Star seems to have jinxed the night as far as dramatic action is concerned.

Before we joined PC Mellor and SC Smith they had stopped a driver who had driven on their side of the road and had tried to speed off.

It turns out that it was a female in a small engined vehicle who was never likely to outrun West Mercia's 1.6litre patrol car.

The woman was very close to the legal limit for drink driving, and the officers advised her to head straight home.

While we were out patrolling parking spaces over the Long Mynd, a call came in that PC Grant had encountered someone who failed to stop.

Putting his foot down, PC Mellor explained that there might be a pursuit, but a senior officer would have to decide whether it was safe to try to apprehend the driver.

It soon became clear that the pursuit was called off.

"The area is so large that it might take us 20 minutes to get to the scene, and that is a long time to wait if you are an officer rolling around with a suspect on the floor," said PC Mellor. "We soon learn how to use our skills of diplomacy."

A good job for some wild Long Mynd horses that the pursuit was called off, as they were right on the route of the now slowed down car. There was some hilarity aboard the vehicle as two of the animals started getting over amorous.

While there were reports of a fight outside a pub in Bridgnorth, and a break-in and the usual Friday night rumpus in Shrewsbury, south Shropshire was much more genteel. Although if anything more serious had kicked off, they could have been drafted in to help their colleagues.

But that did not happen. Indeed it was so quiet that they made no arrests at all on Operation Whitebeam. They had carried out 13 person checks and carried out 50 driver checks on the police national computer.

All in all the three patrol vehicles racked up 548 miles, visiting 34 parishes on the night, which PC Grant said was a good result. They carry out Operation Whitebeam once every couple of quarters.

While on patrol, the officers are also available to help people in distress, including those who walk up the Long Mynd in their flip flops, or those drivers who run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.

One of the last jobs of the night was to stop a camper van with two women on board. The computer had flagged up that they had no insurance, but it turned out that the computer was wrong as they were covered by a business.

The two women have been out looking across the county for a much-loved lost cat.

Officers were unable to help the women find the missing moggy but at least they won't have the worry of producing their documents at their local police station.

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