Police have warned the public not to confront livestock poachers, who they say are likely to be armed and ready to fight.
“Poaching is a lovely old-fashioned term for theft,” Shaun Sawyer, the Devon and Cornwall chief constable, said. “It is very important that we combat it.”
But he admitted that the police sometimes struggled to respond in time when poachers hit Westcountry farms.
Mr Sawyer was facing a grilling from Tony Hogg, the Police Commissioner, at County Hall in Exeter. Mr Hogg’s questions were prompted by messages from the public.
Mr Sawyer said: “Often people who do this are carrying firearms. They are likely to fight before flighting.
“Anyone who is aware of poaching, we would ask them to phone in information rather than confront it themselves even if they are the landowner. I would ask the public not to put themselves in harm’s way. That’s our job. Poaching is quite a quaint term for theft and crime. Serious and organised crime have operated in this area.”
Mr Sawyer, and the Devon police commander Chief Supt Paul Davies, admitted that rural areas posed problems for the police.
Mr Sawyer said: “In rural areas our response times are up to 20 minutes and that’s frustrating for the public.”
And Ch Supt Davies said: “As we face reductions in resources across the force we must not forget the rural areas. If we concentrate on threat, risk and harm there are many rural areas of Devon that wouldn’t see a police officer.”
And he added: “Poaching is very often theft by people that will be involved in other sorts of criminality.”