LISTEN: Fears over Stolen Sheep Going to Illegal Slaughterhouse in Dorset
7:39am 7th November 2013
(Updated 10:20am 7th November 2013)
There's concern stolen sheep are being butchered illegally somewhere in Dorset.
Speaking exclusively to Wessex FM Dorchester's Police Inspector says unlicensed abattoirs could be operating in the county.
It's after a number of sheep rustling cases were reported to them in August and 160 sheep were stolen from a farm near Wool over the weekend (Sat 2nd - Mon 4th November).
Farm thieves have typically carried out their midnight operations in the spring and summer months during the lambing season, but this latest rustling case adds more weight to fears of an organised gang meticulously working across Dorset's countryside.
Dorchester Police Inspector Steve Marsh told us the farm thieves will work quickly to get rid of stolen livestock to avoid detection;
"It's highly likely that the sheep enter the food chain as soon as possible. They'll be taken away and butchered illegally then sold to restaurants and other food chains. Given the makeup of the county, huge rural areas and lots of livestock I would be surprised if some of it wasn't being butchered in Dorset."
"They - thieves - won't want to keep the sheep because they won't have an area for them and while they're alive they can be identified by the authorities as stolen. So they might often cut the ID tags out of the sheep’s ears and butcher them and sell them on."
Inspector Marsh says any illegal set-up involving abattoirs or a makeshift slaughter house is well run and organised across a network of people, possibly crossing over into neighbouring counties:
"They're big set-ups we're not talking about someone’s back garden abattoirs could be professionally run and are happy to turn a blind eye to sheep coming-in or it could be completely amateur set-ups and they take them - sheep - to a back door. We need to be smarter in identifying where these places could be and how we can target them, and we're working on that on the moment."
During Wessex FM's investigation we spoke to a number of farmers and shepherds about animal rustling and illegal abattoirs. A majority of the people we met had lost livestock to audacious thieves in the night or they knew of a fellow farmer who'd been targeted.
Cattistock Farmer Dan Newman had a number of sheep stolen this year and more recently had farming equipment taken by thieves. He said ideas of illegal abattoirs were a concern and thought if any criminal slaughterhouse did exist in Dorset; it was on a smaller scale:
"In order for someone to set-up an abattoir of that type it means it's obviously going on more than we think and it's a bigger business than we're aware of and that's a concern for us in the future.
To see one or two animals taken and butchered is understandable but it's when it becomes an industry in its own right it becomes a concern."
Inspector Marsh believes whoever is responsible for the thefts has some knowledge of farming;
"I think the frustration with a lot of the landowners is that these are people who perhaps had worked in the rural community for a long time themselves. Many of them may have been farmers before and have decided to become criminals and steal from other people so they know what they're doing."
Farmer Dan agrees: "We had 10 Ewes taken from a field, 8 were in lamb and 2 had lambed already, they were beside a road and we discovered a gate was open. Livestock will rarely come with you unless you've regularly been feeding them from a bucket; it's definitely someone who knows what they're doing."
Dorset Police says they need to do more to help local farmers. The force told Wessex FM they're looking at doing more night patrols, expanding the rural watch scheme and have a number of plans in the pipeline to help stamp out rural crime.
You can listen to Wessex FM's Luke de Costa's special report below.
If anyone knows who's responsible for sheep rustling or farm thefts they should contact Dorset Police on 101.