HOME Secretary Priti Patel paid a visit to South Lakeland on Wednesday to chat to farmers about rural crime.

At the Junction 36 Rural Auction Centre, near Milnthorpe, she fielded a variety of questions about a perceived rise in incidents in the area, with particular emphasis on quad bike theft.

Mrs Patel spoke about changing patterns in crime, saying: “There’s more serious violence, there’s more organised crime, there are more crime gangs. That’s not just local, that’s nationwide. A lot of it is international as well.”

The Home Secretary also encouraged people to vote for James Airey, who is vying for the Westmorland and Lonsdale seat, describing him as a “fantastic” candidate.

“He’s local. He understands. Westmorland and Lonsdale is in his DNA,” she said.

Earlier this year, Mrs Patel pledged £750 million in funding to support the recruitment of up to 6,000 extra police officers in England and Wales by the end of 2020/2021, with 51 of these allocated to Cumbria. The aim over the next three years is for 20,000 to be added to the ranks nationally.

In July, the BBC reported that, between 2010 and 2018, police forces lost 21,732 officers, a drop of 15 per cent. The report said these ‘cuts’ were due to austerity measures under Conservative and coalition Governments since 2010.

However, Mrs Patel said that, prior to 2010, “debt was out of control” and “people were losing their jobs because of (Labour) Government policies”, stating the country “should never be subjected to that again.”

She added: “We have something like 6,000 police officers leaving policing every year, so it’s wrong to say that it’s just cuts. It’s factually incorrect to say that it’s just cuts.”

Janet Skublics, of Dentdale, who attended the Junction 36 event, said: “There were so many farmers and the Home Secretary engaged with them and she is committed. She understands that we need more on-the-spot police.”