WEB users from as far away as China have been using the dark web to stream "vile and inhumane activity" taking place on Salisbury Plain.

Following this revelation, Wiltshire's police and crime commissioner (PCC) has welcomed harsher punishments and new measures to tackle rural crime, including hare coursing, across the county.

Extra powers to seize dogs, banning ownership and increased penalties and sentences are now just some of the consequences of hare coursing, the Home Office announced last month.

PCC welcomes change

Welcoming the change, and describing the law as "no longer fit-for-purpose", PCC Philip Wilkinson said: “I’m pleased the government listened - the existing law wasn’t providing the police what they needed and wasn’t an efficient deterrent to this type of activity."

Mr Wilkinson had lobbied for these changes alongside Salisbury and Devizes MPs John Glen and Danny Kruger.

'Criminal and illegal activity'

Talking about the impact on the rural community, including ruined land, the commissioner said: "Farmers are telling me they are fed up with it and it’s happening nightly in Wiltshire - especially at this time of year when this type of activity seems to step up a gear.

“The chief constable and I are appalled by this and we are committed to driving this criminal and illegal activity to ground.

"Just as we are focusing on making Wiltshire a hostile place for drugs gangs and knife crime, Wiltshire will become even more hostile to these rural criminal gangs."

Hare coursing viewed in China

As well as hare coursing itself, Mr Wilkinson revealed that the activity gets streamed on the dark web, which is viewed from as far away as China.

These users bet on how many hares are caught and which dogs clock up the most kills.

“The more sinister part of this is the serious organised crime behind it, streaming it live on the dark web and using this vile and inhumane activity to illicit money from people who appear to be drawn to this blood-thirsty activity," he said.

“We have intelligence which shows hare coursing on Salisbury Plain being watched as far afield as China - this needs to stop and Wiltshire will no longer stand for this.”

Operation Galileo

Beating the coursers was already on the agenda for Wiltshire Police.

As part of the nationwide Operation Galileo, in which information is shared between forces across the country, Wiltshire Police's rural crime team is increasing their patrols and working closely with the farming community and other partners to catch hare coursers.

Sergeant Greg Fergusson said: "Some criminals will travel hundreds of miles to be involved and are often associated with organised crime gangs.

“What many people don’t realise is that the hare coursing is a means to these gangs generating huge sums of money through live-streaming their activities for illegal gambling around the world. This then funds other criminal activity."

Links to further crime

The sergeant added: "And while some may dismiss the impact of hare coursing and offenders consider it to be their ‘leisure activity’, they are also carrying out hostile reconnaissance identifying vulnerable sheds, barns, hangars and other storage spaces used to store agricultural machinery and tools."

Wiltshire Police will also be working alongside partners like the Ministry of Defence Police and Landmarc to tackle the growing problem.

'Wiltshire isn’t an easy option'

Mr Wilkinson added: “Revealing everything which is coming to these gangs would be churlish but I have to warn them, Wiltshire isn’t an easy option for you.

“Salisbury Plain and the masses of farmland we have makes it a more challenging task but not one that we will not shy away from here in Wiltshire.”

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