Eleven arrests after dead sheep found at illegal abattoirs

Eleven men have been arrested after police discovered two illegal abattoirs operating across two English counties.

Police found a number of sheep carcasses at a house in Scunthorpe which were believed to have been stolen from farmland before being slaughtered and butchered.

The grim discovery was made after officers received reports of suspicious activity in the Axholme Road area of the Lincolnshire town. Four men, aged 22, 29, 30 and 54, were arrested on suspicion of theft. 

See also: Northamptonshire sheep slaughter: The story behind the killing spree

Neighbourhood inspector Mark Fletcher said Humberside Police are working closely with the local farming community and its local authority partners to identify any farmers who may have had sheep stolen.

“I would urge anyone who spots suspicious activity around farmland or believes someone is selling illegal meat to contact us on 101. We have a dedicated rural crime team that will investigate these matters,” added Insp Fletcher.

A cordon remains in place around the house as enquiries continue.

Shropshire discovery

On Thursday (16 April) West Mercia Police discovered a makeshift abattoir at a house in Shropshire.

Officers found a “disturbing scene with a large amount of blood on the driveway” in Charles Road, Telford after responding to reports of a dog being hit by a car.

Inside the house, they found one dead sheep and three others in poor health.

Seven men, aged between 18 and 36, were arrested at the address on suspicion of theft and taken into police custody.

Insp Craig Smith said: “Illegal butchery and sheep theft are serious offences.

“Not only are there risks in consuming meat when it isn’t from a reputable source, but illegal butchery can also cause unnecessary suffering to the animal. “

West Mercia Police has urged rural residents to report suspicious activity around farmland, especially while there is less traffic on roads due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The force has also urged people to report any suspicious sales of illegal meat.

Increase in sheep thefts

Rural insurer NFU Mutual says livestock theft has risen by 20% in value since 2017, and it is now regularly receiving reports of 50 or 100 sheep stolen in farm raids.

As well as causing untold suffering to sheep, which may be in-lamb when they are stolen, rustling is causing high levels of anxiety for farmers who have built up their flocks over many years.

“Rustlers are getting more skilled and organised, quickly loading sheep onto trailers and lorries late at night. We are concerned that gangs are now using working sheepdogs, which have also been stolen, to get the job done,” said Rebecca Davidson, a rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual.

To avoid buying stolen meat slaughtered in unregulated abattoirs, NFU Mutual advises the public to look for the Red Tractor logo and not to buy meat from unusual sources.

Anyone with information on either of these two incidents should call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. There is no indication that the two incidents are linked.

Tips to prevent livestock rustling

Preventing rustling is not as easy as putting a padlock on a building or fitting a security system to a tractor, NFU Mutual says.

However, there are a number of steps farmers can take to reduce the risk, and technology is now providing effective ways of tracing stolen livestock. 

To deter livestock thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:

  • Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
  • When possible, graze livestock in fields away from roads
  • Check stock regularly – and vary times of feeding/check ups
  • Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer, which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
  • Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
  • Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or give information 100% anonymously to the Rural Crime Hotline on 0800 783 0137
  • Dial 999 immediately if an incident is taking place – do not approach criminals
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