Illegal Lincolnshire hare coursers in the sights of Galileo
The flat agricultural areas of land surrounding Sleaford and across other areas of the county are said to be "perfect" grounds for hare coursing.
So each year from harvest through until spring, groups of hare coursers will travel to Sleaford from built up urban areas to bet thousands of pounds on the illegal events.
LINCOLNSHIRE Police set up Operation Galileo last year to tackle the rise in the number of incidents and have now decided to repeat the initiative again.
Sgt Dave Robinson, from the team of nine officers, said that when the offenders were in the area they caused "absolute mayhem".
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He said: "They don't ask permission of the land owners to use their land and they don't care what damage they do to the land either.
"If the owner of the land tries to approach them, the offenders tend to get very abusive and will often try to intimidate them.
"Evidence shows that people who participate in it are also involved in other forms of criminal activity too and many have criminal convictions."
Groups of between two and 12 people generally drive round the area and when they spot a hare in a field they will place bets on which of their dogs will catch the animal when let loose.
Offenders will sometimes place bets of £1,000 a time. For some the illegal activity is their source of income for the winter.
Sgt Robinson added: "One guy supposedly made £30,000 in six weeks. They live a good lifestyle."
He said that the hare coursers were usually pretty distinctive and were fairly easy to spot.
"They will usually drive the same types of vehicles – 4x4s, estate cars, or vans. The cars will need space for their dogs which are usually Greyhounds, Salukis or Lurcher types.
"They will always operate during daylight hours so we can usually spot them when they're doing it although they have been known to put false calls in to the station to try to get us out of the area."
The team chased one offender right across the county to catch him during the first week of the operation this year.
Sgt Robinson said: "The guy had taken part in three separate incidents during the one day.
"He'd been all over Metheringham Airfield and we tracked him at different points cross the county before finally catching him in Dunston."
Punishments for the crime can vary from fines of between £500 and £1,000; Asbos; and banning orders which will prevent the offenders from entering the county with a dog.
Offenders can have their cars seized if it is clear they have used the vehicle to take part in an illegal activity and the dogs are also sometimes seized.
Sgt Robinson said the hare coursers will often try to do whatever they can to avoid being caught.
He said: "Last year we chased a guy who had swum across a river in the middle of winter to try to get away.
"When we caught him, he was soaking wet and freezing cold."
He said that sometimes they will hide from the police in bushes and some will let their dog loose to avoid being caught with it.
During Operation Galileo last year, 186 men were prosecuted, usually under the Gaming or Hunting Acts, and another 100 were given warnings prior to commencing any coursing. Consequently the number of incidents reported to Lincolnshire police was reduced by around 250, and was the lowest recorded number for at least five years. The same period also saw a dramatic reduction in distraction burglaries in the County.
Billinghay and North Kyme were two areas in which the large majority of cases of the illegal activity took place last year.
Hare coursing can take place any time between harvest and Spring. The ideal conditions are said to be when it is a clear day but when the ground is soft.
It has been found that some offenders won't let their dogs run on ground that is too hard to avoid the dogs hurting their legs.
It will take place during daylight hours and preferably on very flat land so that the hare and the dogs can be clearly seen.
Offenders will generally travel in 4x4, estate cars or vans so that they have enough room to transport their dogs.
The types of cars they use are generally ones that they can use to make a quick get-away in if needed.
The types of dogs used for hare coursing are usually Greyhounds, Salukis or Lurcher types.
If anyone spots any suspicious looking vehicles they are asked to contact 101 after taking note of the vehicle registrations, times and specific locations.
However, even information such as the make, colour and direction of travel of vehicles can be extremely valuable to police, as every piece of information can help the team to build up a picture of what the hare coursers are doing and where they are targeting.
If anyone witnesses hare coursing actually taking place they should call 999.