A hill farming duo has been convicted of seizing more than 100 sheep from neighbouring Pennine farms following a four-year inquiry.

Swaledale sheep breeder Philip Raine, 46, from Hazel Gill Farm, Bowes, Barnard Castle, was prosecuted under the Proceeds of Crime Act at Teesside Crown Court yesterday along with his 66-year-old uncle Charles Raine, known as “Neville”.

Both men had denied conspiring to use criminal property, namely sheep, while knowing them to be stolen from neighbouring farmers on Stainmore.

See also: Somerset farms latest to be hit by sheep rustlers

But they were found guilty of stealing sheep by jury on Thursday (3 December).

Out of 151 sheep seized, 116 have been returned to a total of 16 victims, comprising farmers from Cumbria, County Durham and North Yorkshire.

During the investigation, police held an identity parade of the stolen sheep in Cumbria in November 2013 to help reunite the animals with their rightful owners.

Identity markings, including horn brands, ear tags and wool paint, had been removed from the sheep, the court heard.

Speaking afterwards, detective inspector Paul Phillips, of Durham Police, who led the investigation, said the inquiry revealed the “complete contempt” the two men had for other farmers.

“They have broken the rules of the unwritten ‘Shepherd’s Bible’, which has guided sheep farmers for generations,” he said.

“Farmers need to be able to trust their neighbours and they have shown themselves unworthy of that trust.

“I would like to pay tribute to the victims who have remained supportive, patient and dignified throughout what has been a prolonged and complex police investigation which began in the winter of 2011.”

Durham Police is believed to be the first to secure a prosecution under the Proceeds of Crime Act connected to the theft of sheep.

Det Insp Phillips added: “Hopefully, this will instil confidence in the vast majority of farmers, who are law-abiding members of our communities, and send a strong message to those who might be tempted to steal their neighbour’s animals that, if they do, they will be brought to justice.” 

Neville and Phillip Raine ran two farms in the Bowes area of County Durham, close to the A66.

Both men were granted bail and will be sentenced in the first week of January.

Judge Tony Briggs warned them “all sentencing options, including custody” were possible.