A VIGILANTE group formed 230 years ago to protect people and farmers and regarded as the forerunner of the police is still going strong.

The Tanworth Association for the Prosecution of Felons, formed in 1784 when there was no established police force and crime was rife, has recently stepped up its crime watch following thefts of central heating oil from farms in Alvechurch and neighbouring areas.

still going strong it has received a number of complaints from farmers and property owners in the Alvechurch area about central heating oil being drained from tanks in outer farm buildings.

The association has been linked for many years with the Burman family, which goes back to 1415 and is one of the oldest families in Warwickshire.

Richard Burman, association treasurer, said: "We have received numerous complaints about the oil, which is quite expensive and used for heating buildings, being drained off from tanks during the night by thieves.

"We are co-operating with the police over the matter. We are also have a crime watch, with police co-operation, for our horses.”

Backed by landowners and farmers the group enforced its own law and brought offenders before local courts, primarily to protect local people and farmers.

Members quickly point out that the association these days no longer operates as a law enforcement group, but still pays reward money leading to convictions.

Incredibly, posters which have not changed for more than 200 years, are still put up once a year in the Alvechurch area saying that the group provides rewards “for informers, pursuers and apprehenders or persons guilty of offences against the person or property of members of the above association".

The last member rewarded was given the princely sum of five pounds five shillings (£5 and 50p) after he spotted three youths stealing manhole covers. The culprit was prosecuted at Redditch Magistrates Court.

Association chairman John Burman said it had been the tradition for more than 200 years to publish the posters every year in old money which was considered a lot in those days.

He said things were virtually unchanged where the posters were concerned.

“We have 172 members and we still pay rewards leading to the conviction of offenders,” he said.

”The last award was made two years ago after an association member helped to convict a thief. "

The Tanworth Association for the Prosecution of Felons is holding its annual dinner and meeting at Kings Norton Golf Club, Alvechurch on May 1 with most of its 172 members expected to attend.