Cash-strapped farmers and farm workers could be helping unscrupulous meat traders steal sheep from remote Welsh farmland.

Chief inspector Steve Hughson, based at Brecon in Powys, the county with the greatest concentration of sheep in the UK, has suggested that there is evidence of thefts being carried out by people who knew how to work dogs and had local knowledge.

“The sort of person who steals livestock has got to know how to do it, the average person would not have a clue,” said C I Hughson. “Farmers must have an idea who is stealing sheep and they need to have confidence in the police and come forward.”

His claim was supported by Farmers Union of Wales president Gareth Vaughan, who said he had seen evidence collected by the police on a few individuals with farming links.

“It is common sense to conclude that a tiny minority of hard pressed farmers are probably helping people with outlets for illegally obtained meat,” admitted Mr Vaughan, who farms in Powys.

“It is a terrible thing to do, but a few people can it as a way of earning extra income when their own stock is making very little money.

It was claimed that as many as 8000 sheep had been stolen in Powys in the last two years, including 70 from one farm. He knew of many farmers, including his own brother, who had lost sheep to thieves. 

“I urge all farmers to report anything suspicious to the police. We all have to be good neighbours and remember that we could be the next to have our stock rustled.”

Neil Smith, FUW county executive officer for Gwent and himself a farmer, said that he had little doubt that financially stretched farmers had been involved with some of the spate of thefts in his county.

“Whenever names are mentioned I urge members to tell the police and not, as has been suggested, to take the law into their own hands to warn off those who are suspected of involvement.”