First of all, forget anything you’ve seen on the telly about “Allotment Wars” and the like. The problems in Ashford are casual vandalism, targeted theft of machinery or scrap (rarely, in the past, on specific sites, new sheds), and the occasional flurry of vegetables stolen either to eat or for sale at boot fairs. This latter is more of a problem in the areas where the sale of produce at boot fairs is a money-spinner – down here in rural Kent there are plenty of other people selling their surpluses and it hardly seems worth risking a prison sentence for the modest sums you could get for someone’s potatoes.
The police do not dismiss allotment crimes as not worth bothering with. Every theft, every incident of criminal damage, is recorded, and if something can be done they will do it. Scrap metal theft is a high priority with local police, and in the past when there have been problems PCSOs have rerouted their patrols to keep an eye on allotments.
That said, don’t expect miracles. Equipment like rotovators may be retrieved – especially if you have marked it and made a note of, or photographed, the engine number (a photo of the whole machinery item is good, too). It is unlikely the police will get back your missing onions or potatoes HOWEVER they do want to know as the information may form part of a wider pattern of thefts. Vandalism is also taken seriously; ‘low-level’ crime of this sort by youths may lead on to more serious offences if not tackled early on. Even if you do not expect the police to be able to do anything about the crime, REPORT IT.
If a crime (including criminal damage or vandalism) is in progress – even if you’ve just stopped it and the culprits may still be nearby, DIAL 999. The police are quite clear about this; this is NOT a misuse of the emergency number. Dial 999 if there is anything the police can do immediately, like driving round the area looking for someone answering your description, or stopping a vehicle which you’ve made a note of.
If a crime has happened on the allotments and you have just discovered it, but there is no reason to think the culprits have only just left the scene, then dial 101. This is the number for reporting crime.
Take down any vehicle registration. Make a note of the description of anyone seen, including what they are wearing. Make a note if they are shouting a name eg “Run for it Fred”.
Take photographs – lots of them. If you can photo offenders or their vehicles the police will find this immensely useful. Take down any vehicle registration. Sometimes they will look at a photo and say “Oh, I know who THAT is . . .” Photos can be used as evidence in court. You will be able to email the photos to the policeman handling the case, who will then have them available to send out to beat officers, so they can keep their eyes open.
Happily, theft and vandalism are only intermittent problems in the Ashford. However, it makes sense not to court trouble, so take a few simple measures to avoid becoming a victim.
Prime times for allotment theft are very early midsummer mornings, and late summer evenings. If you can, it’s always a good idea to be about at these times of day, and gardening conditions are extremely pleasant, especially early morning when the birds are singing and the odd fox strolls by.
You are not advised to tackle thieves or vandals yourself, except by shouting “Oi” and other choice words. If other allotmenteers are nearby, or can be summoned from their homes quickly, get them to come so there are several people there. Even a gang of youths are unlikely to tackle a group of people.
Do not attempt to make a citizens arrest. The law on this is very fuzzy and you may end up in trouble yourself.
One is the well-proven Smartwater marking system. This is available online (click the link) and can be used to mark your valuables at home as well. It is not uncommon for police to arrest criminals but find themselves unable to prove the goods are stolen, let alone who they rightfully belong to. Smartwater gets round that – the stuff can definitely be idenitfied as stolen and can be inmmediately traced nack to the rightful owner. This means a good chance of a conviction, and the return of your property.
Less specific, but still useful, is to mark your property with your postcode using purpose-made invisible ink marking pens. These can be obtained by contacting your Neighbourhood PCSO. The Neighbourhood team is always happy to arrange crime-prevention visits. Contact your Neighbourhood officer by phoning the non-urgent police line on 101 and asking for the relevant officer. You will be put through either to them, or to their voicemail (they aren’t always on duty office hours) where you can leave a message asking them to contact you.