AVON and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Shelford has hit back at claims his force was not taking rural crime seriously enough.

The allegation was made last week by Liberal Democrat PCC candidate Benet Allen, from Minehead, who said tackling rural crime was being under-resourced.

But Mr Shelford, who is standing as a Conservative candidate for re-election, said: “The truth is quite the opposite.

“The specialist rural crime team has now trained over 400 neighbourhood officers to assist in tackling countryside specific crime.

“Farmers and rural business owners can access support on a range of issues from security to prevention of livestock and machinery theft.

“The Rural Crime Board, which includes representatives from the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association, has reported a huge reduction in illegal hunting locally and has praised the work of the rural crime officers who regularly attend farmers markets to advise on crime prevention strategies.”

Mr Shelford also pointed to the success of Operation Ragwort, an intelligence sharing initiative launched by the five Conservative PCCs in the Westcountry.

He said: “This operation is a national first, sharing information, intelligence, and data on the organised crime gangs that target farming businesses.

“Acquisitive crime in rural areas is not just opportunistic and gangs often target high-value machinery and electronic equipment.

“By working across borders in a co-ordinated and supportive way these criminals can be brought to justice.

“I have made supporting rural communities a priority, our specialist officers do an amazing job, from disrupting illegal raves to cracking down on hare coursing.”

Local MP Rebecca Pow said: “Working closely with Mark Shelford, tackling rural crime is one of my priorities and we have had real success.

“The neighbourhood officers, the intelligence sharing, the close working with farmers, are all reducing rural crime.

“And Mark’s team are actively involved in my anti-social behaviour forum, too.

“It is disingenuous and misleading for the Liberal Democrats to claim rural crime is under-resourced when the evidence is clear that the Conservative PCCs are delivering on their pledges to our rural communities across the South West.”