POLICE in the Scottish Borders have highlighted a growing trend of criminals travelling up from England to wreak havoc on rural farms and dwellings.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s police and fire safety board, councillors heard how criminals are travelling from outside of the area and targeting rural properties using sophisticated techniques to steal vehicles and belongings.

Despite this, the actual number of housebreakings has decreased, thanks in part to work carried out by police and the council-funded community action team.

Giving a presentation to the meeting, Chief Inspector Stuart Reid, a former Scotland rugby international, told councillors: “We’ve had a 10.6% decrease in housebreakings. That reflects the work the community action team have been doing, as well as the work by ourselves.

“As a result of that, we have 21 fewer homes which are being broken into in the Scottish Borders compared to last year.

“The total number of housebreakings, which includes attempts, is 175, down from 196, which is a pleasing reduction.

“There is a structural patrol matrix that we do in the area, and all of the major arterial routes in the Borders are covered.

“We do try to be a travelling deterrent to criminals travelling from other areas. We are live to the intelligence that says we are being visited from travelling vehicles from across the border in particular, and we a have a roads vehicle which carries out patrols.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull, who chairs the police, fire and rescue board, commented: “You touched on travellers that come in to the area to commit crimes. We’ve worked extensively with the NFU, and with the farming community, to protect the likes of agricultural vehicles, and things like that.

“We had a spate of Ford Transits being stolen, where people could buy a key for £25, and get into the van to rewire it. So there’s quite sophisticated methodology in these targeted crimes.

Chief Inspector Reid said that the sophistication of these crimes is always developing: “It’s increasing all the time. Our colleagues have seen small tracking devices fitted to the bottom of cars, where people have been at an event, and the criminals have seen something on the car on the roof and thought: ‘I’ll have that’. So they track the car back that way.

“There’s also technology where they use signal boosters. If you’ve got your car in the driveway, and the key will be sitting in the hallway or at the back door, they can actually use a device to boost the signal from the key to the car, open it and get away without even breaking into your house. So there is an increase in sophistication.”

The report, presented by Chief Inspector Reid, also outlines the priorities of police in the Borders in fighting rural acquisitive crime.

The report states that Police Scotland will “conduct road checks on our main arterial routes and vulnerable sites to detect, disrupt and deter travelling criminals; utilise the community action team to be a visible and physical deterrent to criminals whilst providing community reassurance patrols following a report; carry out foot patrols during the festive period in high footfall areas to deter shoplifting; and a dedicated roads policing vehicle is being tasked with targeted patrols to deter and detect persons carrying out acquisitive crime.”