Stephen Irvine, 19 April 2012
After the morning’s sun had teased me from my chamber this week, the afternoon skies suddenly blackened like a bruise on the fragile skin of the atmosphere, the violence visited there inflicted by the fist of God almighty himself, his omnipotence terrifyingly displayed in the suddenness of the darkening. With hail now drumming on my cranium I had to abandon the countryside walk I had planned for the day and find sanctuary, my Primark trainers offering little resistance to the elements as I slopped through muddy lanes.
As I bustled into the pitch-black of a barn and eventually managed to strike a sodden match, I was shocked to see two fierce fellows glaring my way with unpleasant intent. Despite inspecting my iPhone with quizzical looks, they stole it anyway before explaining that there was a tidy living to be made from lost city-dwellers in weather-induced barn sheltering clichés, and that I should get on the first train back to the big smoke if I knew what was good for me.
It seems my ordeal was part of a worrying trend and, in fact, so troubling is the threat of rural wrong-doers in certain areas that a new patrol will be in place to protect the Norfolk countryside from Sunday onwards. Three special officers and one community support officer will watch over Norfolk and its good folks on horseback, a force that one might say seems a tad modest for a county comprising 2,074 square miles in area.
Far from being discouraged by the enormity of the task in hand, one of the chosen four, Nichola Rix, issued the following battle cry to any mavericks thinking of causing beef on her patch: “We won’t go towards any situations that could put our horses in danger. We’ll literally be eyes and ears and jot down anything that we see.”
Maybe I’ve lived amongst hardened urban criminals for too long, but the thought of a mounted officer maintaining a safe distance whilst jotting down notes as suspected crimes are carried out hardly seems like something to strike fear into the rogues of East Anglia. You can just imagine the commanding officer receiving their notes back at the station: ‘Two IC1 males seen acting suspiciously in the vicinity of farm machinery. Unfortunately the path leading to the crime scene looked somewhat uneven, so we hung back on our mounts while they dismantled a tractor before making off.’ Right. Thanks for that Poirot. Plus, as a pedantic aside, if they were literally eyes and ears, it would be very difficult to ride a horse, and even more difficult to jot anything down…
This new patrol forms part of Operation Randall, Norfolk’s countryside crime-fighting initiative which is in place to tackle ‘offences such as fuel and scrap metal theft along with rural-specific crimes’ according to Det Supt Nick Dean on the Norfolk Police’s website. Far be it from me to scoff at the seriousness of having some oik syphon the diesel out of your combine harvester, but surely these kind of incidents must be few and far between, and I fail to see how having four super-cautious officers patrol the whole county on horseback will make much difference. And what exactly are these other ‘rural-specific crimes’ Mr Dean speaks of? Stealing cooling pies from windowsills, jay-walking between hedgerows, sheep-pestering?
Interestingly, anti-social behaviour has made up just over half of the reported crime within Norfolk County Council for the previous year according to ukcrimestats.com, something that is generally an urban phenomenon. It therefore strikes me that having extra officers patrol Norfolk’s towns and trouble hotspots would be far more gratefully received by the general populous than having four coppers on the lookout in the rolling countryside, even if they are armed with notepads.
I just hope that Nichola Rix and friends are more reliable than the trains around here. I’ve been waiting alone on a windswept platform for ages, no longer with a phone to listen to The Wurzels Greatest Hits on, and now there’s a nasty-looking bloke heading my way across the footbridge…