New police chief targets rural offences, including fly-tipping, in St Albans

Fly tipping on Hemel Hempstead Road

Fly tipping on Hemel Hempstead Road - Credit: Archant

Four months after starting his new role as St Albans’ Chief Inspector, Shane O’Neill is determined to make an impact on rural crime – including decreasing the incidence of fly-tipping in rural beauty spots.

St Albans Chief Inspector Shane O'Neill

St Albans Chief Inspector Shane O'Neill - Credit: Sophie Crockett/Archant

When CI O’Neill took over the responsibility for running the local policing teams in May this year from incumbent Ken Townsend, he was thrilled because he has many connections to the city and had wanted to be posted here for some time.

Speaking to the Herts Advertiser on Friday, September 2, the new chief said the county was a “very safe place – that is well known, because it is true”.

However, when asked what types of crime were on his ‘hit-list’, having settled into his new role, CI O’Neill replied: “For me personally, rural crime because of its impact, particularly around fly-tipping which is a real menace. It affects a lot of farmers and landowners because they have to pay to get it removed.

“It’s an issue from Hemel Hempstead to St Albans, and can be seen by people travelling past it on the roads.

“Fly-tipping is a local priority for us, along with damage to fields because people have been driving around farmers’ fields and causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.”

He said that the latest crime statistics showed that burglaries had decreased by 27 per cent across the St Albans district over the past year.

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But, CI O’Neill added, “We think that’s because criminals are changing their behaviour and turning to shoplifting, because they see that as less of a risk, as they are less likely to be remanded to prison by the courts.

“So theft from shops has gone up substantially. The police have linked with council officials, and safer neighbourhood teams to engage with shops, to give crime prevention advice. Shoplifting impacts upon customers because prices can rise as a result, so this crime is another area of focus for us.”

CI O’Neill said that officers were also speaking with the courts to make them aware of the impact of such crimes, in relation to sentencing.

Unfortunately there has also been an increase in theft from vehicles, which is up two per cent from the previous year.

He explained that many of the perpetrators of this type of crime tended to travel in to the district by train, with “Harpenden hit quite hard. So we are working on this with the British Transport Police”.

Also, Herts Police wants motorists to double-check their vehicles are locked, particularly keyless ones.

Residents have been warned against assuming their vehicle is automatically secure, and to ensure that any car keys left in their homes do not trigger the unlock button on their car, particularly if their fob is left in close proximity, for example in their front porch.

CI O’Neill said: “A lot of people leave their car unlocked unintentionally, so criminals are not actually breaking into a locked vehicle – they are just trying the door handles and taking sat navs and other property. It is a petty crime, but it affects a lot of people.”

Vehicles parked in some hotel car parks are also being targeted by thieves, with power tools being stolen from the likes of vans.

CI O’Neill said he was enjoying his new role, adding, “I feel very lucky to be here because it’s a wonderful city to work in.”

He joined Herts Police in 1988, aged 22, as he “wanted a job that was exciting, and I also wanted to help society, by putting something back into the community, and it’s a great job most of the time.”