Skip to content

Rural Crime on the Isle of Wight

Cowes, Isle of Wight
“Crime and the Impact on Rural Communities” Conference
18 October 2001

British Crime Survey 2000

I will start with a few facts from BCS 2000 with which by now you are probably all familiar

  • Rural crime is between ½ and two-thirds rates of burglary, car crime and violence in towns
  • The less dense the population, the lower the risk of burglary, car crime and violence
  • There are fewer police officers per head of population in rural areas than in towns but
  • The crime per police constable is nevertheless lower in the countryside than in towns
  • People living in rural areas fear crime less, and think that they are less likely to be a victim of crime, than those in towns.
  • They are less worried about becoming a victim, feel safer in their own homes and are more positive about their quality of life, than people living in towns.
  • Town and country burglary has been falling since 1993;  town and country car crime since 1995; and, in rural communities but not in towns, violence since 1997.

However, BCS 2000 gives one point which is significant:

  • There appears to have been a rise in rural crime, proportionally greater than elsewhere, in the early to mid 1990s.  This may account for the recent concern in rural areas.  However, since then crime has been falling.


Let’s go a bit deeper into the countryside.  Research in Scotland has shown:

  • That, although farms are often crime-free, in any one year, about a third of farmers experience vandalism (fire-raising), theft (gates, vehicles, chainsaws, tractor radios), fly-tipping, poaching and crimes against wildlife.  The more remote you are, the less likely you are to have trouble.  Generally the offenders were thought to be young people.
  • Few farmers report much of this, so the statistics are not reliable.  There are implications here for CDRPs: if you don’t get the full picture, you can’t address the problem.
  • Farmers are becoming increasingly aware of the need for straightforward crime reduction procedures – like locking buildings and equipment – and relying on dogs and friendly neighbours.
  • When crime does occur in the country, the absence of services available in towns can make it more damaging.  This makes people feel vulnerable.

The Isle of Wight (Recorded Crime: 12 months to March 2001)

Population thousands Violence Sex Robbery Burglary Theft
of a car
from a car
Isle of Wight 128.2 9.8 0.6 0.2 4.0 1.5 4.2
Chichester 108.5 6.9 1.0 0.3 3.4 2.3 8.6
Rother 91.6 6.0 0.5 0.5 5.2 4.7 11.0

Let’s look at the Isle of Wight, in its CDRP family.  Its nearest family members are Chichester, which is urban or suburban, and Rother, in Sussex, which is rural.

  • IoW 128k; Chichester 108k, Rother 92k so IoW is largest

The figures here are per 1000 population:

  • Violence: IoW 9.8; Chichester 6.9, Rother 6.0: there’s a difference.  This is likely to reflect the Island’s tourism
  • Sex offences: IoW 0.6; Chichester 1.0, Rother 0.5: the urban area is the highest
  • Robbery: IoW 0.2; Chichester 0.3, Rother 0.5.  The Island is by far the safest.  The mainland, and particularly London, is suffering from mobile phone theft: about 50% of robberies are of mobile phones.
  • Domestic burglary: IoW 4.0; Chichester 3.4, Rother 5.2.  The Island is not as low as Chichester.
  • Theft of a car: IoW 1.5; Chichester 2.3, Rother 4.7  That shows the low risk to cars on the Island.
  • Theft from a car: IoW 4.2; Chichester 8.6, Rother 11.0  And that confirms the low risk to cars on the Island.

This allows us to develop the picture.  In comparison to similar localities, the Island has more violence offences and slightly more burglaries.  But is safer on robbery and car crime.


There are two points I would like to make here.  The first relates to tourism.  Foot and mouth disease this year brought out in sharper focus than most of us had seen before the importance of tourism, not merely for the nation or for towns, but for rural economies.  That will be obvious for the Island.

There is, therefore, a real task to make the Island’s tourism safer: to find out what crimes are associated with tourism and take specific measures against them.  Some will be associated with drink and occur at particular pubs or clubs rather than others. That is probably where the violence figures come from.

Foreign language students

Other crimes will be targeted at particular groups.  Foreign language students tend to be at risk.  They may not be good at identifying the offenders and they may not still be in this country when the case comes up.  Don’t underestimate the economic impact of these students on the local economy and that a good experience is likely to bring these students back again later, as adults.  To illustrate the significance of this I could take the rather exotic example I came across in Vanuatu.

Vanuatu thought that one way of upgrading its tourist industry was to discourage back-packers and encourage high-cost, high-class luxury hotels.  But they soon found that visitors to luxury hotels spend their time in those hotels (which are largely foreign-owned anyway) and they don’t support the local economy.  By contrast, back packers stay in locally-owned hotels and bed and breakfasts, spend money in local cafes, clubs and shops, and can significantly contribute to the local economy.

Rural communities generally now need to look at crimes against their tourism: an obvious example is car crime in rural car parks.  Making tourism safer benefits the tourists and the economy: but it also benefits local communities who, frankly, aren’t always that welcoming to visitors.

The fear of crime

I would like to turn now to the fear of crime for one of the best ways of reducing fear is to take it seriously as an issue in its own right.

We know that those who fear crime most are not the rich, but the poor, particularly those in social housing and inner cities; people from ethnic minorities;  people who feel vulnerable and fear the effect which a crime might have on them; those who worry about life in general, or about other people.  Women, particularly mothers, fear crime more than men – apart, predictably, from men worrying about their cars.

Then there are factors like the time of day; familiarity with places and people; lack of lighting; or seeing incivilities which we associate with crime – like rubbish, dog mess and inconsiderate driving.

Young people

Of all groups, the young fear crime the most: they are at one and the same time the most feared, the most victimised and the most fearful.  That is why it is so important to include young people in any crime audit.  Young people go around in groups because parents tell them not to go out alone and being in a group is an important defence against both crime and the fear of crime.

Older people tend to feel less at risk, not least because they now adopt a less risky and more comfortable lifestyle – like not being out so late at night.

Fear of crime has been falling because crime itself is falling.  But seeing that there is something we can do to protect ourselves against crime should also make us feel less vulnerable and more able to cope.

Reducing fear of crime

The best way of reducing one’s risk at home against attack by strangers is with better security.  By “better” I mean security which is strong enough and yet easy and convenient enough that you use it.  There is no point having strong locks if they are such a palaver that you don’t use them. And don’t expend energy wishing it were otherwise: that in the old days you didn’t have to lock and why should you now?  Just make it easy for yourself to secure your belongings.  To a farmer I would say, decide what kind of padlocks you want and get as many as necessary, but all with the same key.

Many burglaries are preventable. 21% of burglars enter through an unlocked door and a further 6% through an open window.  What people fear most about burglary is being attacked by an intruder.  It’s wrong to think that because you haven’t much to steal, there’s no point having decent locks.

As part of your house security, you should consider how best to deal with possible bogus callers.  Although only 6% of burglaries involve false pretences, this doubles in households headed by someone over 60.  Less than one person in three checks the credentials of callers who seek to enter the house.  An excellent start is a chain or restraint on the front door, and one that you are going to use.

Planning ahead so as not to feel vulnerable

The next stage is to make ourselves feel less alone and vulnerable. Reducing loneliness involves getting to know our neighbours and, possibly, having a neighbourhood watch or a neighbourhood warden.  Get to know some of the young people too. You will usually find that they are not villains, but someone else’s children and grandchildren.

Sometimes it will help to improve the environment around your home, with better lighting and making sure that signs of crime, like graffiti, syringes or abandoned cars, are removed quickly.  Don’t sit back and assume that “they” necessarily know that there is a problem.  Seek out the correct contact and report any problem as soon as it occurs.

You could also consider having a contingency plan in case you or any of your neighbours becomes a victim of crime.  Know how to get in touch with Victim Support.  Encourage the victim to help the police: many victims know the identity of their offender, but a third do not tell the police.  Encourage the victim to do whatever may be necessary to avoid a repeat offence.  All this will become essential in the very rare event of a serious crime, when the victim will feel very alone, vulnerable and isolated.

Travelling and public transport

Exactly the same points can be made about travel and public transport.  For instance, if you use a car lock it.  Over 10% of people don’t.  Take care where you park and use a secure car park if you can.  Hide as much as you can.  If your car is broken into, do tell the police: they are getting better at dealing with this.  When travelling by public transport take whatever steps you can to avoid feeling isolated and vulnerable.

Understanding about the media

The fear of crime is heavily affected by media coverage and it is worthwhile trying to understand why.  To start with, the advertisers of home security, car and personal alarms often make you feel at risk in order to promote their products.

The news media know that we are fascinated by crime – not normal, run-of-the-mill crime, but special crimes.  So that is what they give us: accounts of precisely those crimes which are least likely to occur  The main exception to this is local media which get their impact by emphasising crime committed by local people in a place near you.

So we end up with a mixture of serious, unusual and local crimes. Hearing about the rare but serious crimes makes a significant, possibly cumulative, impact on us. As a result, even in one of the safest places, not only in England, but the world, you could get the impression of a crime-ridden society.

We catch most offenders

Known offenders account for the vast majority of reported crime.  It may surprise you to hear this but, in this country, we catch and punish the vast majority of persistent offenders.  People who go on committing offences get caught and are punished for it.  Only about 100,000 persistent offenders are responsible for 50% of crime in England and Wales.

It would be unrealistic to think that we could ever detect or prosecute every offence, so the experience of most of us will be that “our” offender is not caught.  But call in at any court and see how offenders are brought to justice so regularly that they have strings of convictions. Our prisons are full.  There aren’t many who are getting away with it.

We would all be less fearful of crime if we had the confidence that the criminal justice system – the police, the courts, the prison and probation services and the voluntary sector – were regularly handling the full offending population.  I am sure they are.  Indeed, one of the messages I wish we could get out to offenders is that, if they continue offending, they will get caught.  They won’t currently get that message from the media, and we suffer as a result.

Repeat offenders and problem families

But this does give us a way in to tackling crime in our communities: by concentrating on repeat offenders and problem families. I have, for instance, been to a district with a population which is the same as the Island where the crime and disorder partnership meets in special session to discuss their handling of 6 or 8 problem families.

Tackling problem families in this way is a very effective use of every agency’s time.  Every practitioner knows that a small proportion of their clientele accounts for most of their time.  Typically, 8% of patients account for 80% of a doctor’s time.  When I was a forensic psychologist in prisons, the proportion was even smaller.  In Los Angeles – to take a non-UK example – 16% of families account for two-thirds of arrests and a similar proportion of Los Angeles social services, health, probation, police and education expenditure.

When this partnership considered their problem families, the usual issues came up: poor school attendance, drugs, thieving and anti-social behaviour, prostitution, drink, unemployment, father in prison (actually, the problem was that he was just about to come out).  The partners together worked out how best to tackle each family together, in the round.  In one case the police said that they would hold back from charging one youngster if the attendance officer was able to get him to school.

This all seemed to me to make eminently good sense.  This is, I think, a good way of tackling some of the more deeply entrenched crime problems in discreet communities.


So my main messages are:

  • Rural communities have the advantage that the sheer volume of crime is low.
  • Don’t let that make you complacent or cause you to feel vulnerable: offenders can travel and everyone needs to take sensible precautions against crime and these work.
  • Keep in touch with the police.  They need intelligence as well as formal complaints.  They need people willing to act as witnesses.  But don’t expect every crime to be resolved immediately.
  • Get a strategy on crimes associated with tourism.
  • Tackle problem families through the partnership.
  • Build in a strategy for helping victims cope with the aftermath of crime.

Finally, invest in your crime and disorder partnership

For that is the best way forward: make sure that

  • all partners engage and co-operate;
  • there is a real problem-solving approach to anti-social behaviour;
  • there are proper procedures for collecting evidence;
  • the partnership has the confidence of the courts;
  • there is a proper follow-up within the partnership;
  • if there is a difficult issue, you don’t give up if the going gets rough!  That’s what too many people have been doing with crime for years.

Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East