First sheep rustling convictions for 25 years after 55 sheep stolen from Chipping Farm

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TWO men have become the first in 25 years to be convicted of sheep rustling after the theft of 55 pregnant ewes from a farm in the Ribble Valley.

James Hesketh (20), of Wheatsheaf Avenue, Longridge, was found guilty of handling stolen goods on Thursday after a four-day trial. A second man, John Kirkham (65), of Whittingham Lane, Goosnargh,admitted theft at an earlier hearing.

The sheep, valued between £10,000 and £15,000, were stolen from a field in Chipping in the early hours of the morning on Monday, February 28th, 2011. They were found on a farm in Durham five days later after a local farmer became suspicious and contacted police. Officers then visited a specialist forensic unit which used DNA to link them back to sheep on the victim’s farm.

Officer in the case DC Elaine Smalley from Ribble Valley CID said: “This has been a long and complex investigation which has resulted in the conviction of two men who were part of the local farming community.

“This type of crime leaves the law-abiding close knit farming community in the Ribble Valley feeling betrayed by people who purport to be farmers. Not only is there a financial burden for farmers, but sheep are their livelihood and a great deal of time and effect goes into farming all year round. To have that snatched away by greed is devastating.

“We do a lot of work with farmers and carry out regular operations aimed at raising awareness of the importance of crime prevention – particularly in isolated rural communities.”

“We have used specialist forensic evidence to link the sheep back to the victim which is the first time a scientist has carried out DNA testing to prove parentage for a criminal case. I hope this conviction acts as a warning to people who think it is acceptable to commit crime in Lancashire, that they will be targeted and put before the courts.”

There are a number of FarmWatch schemes operating across the county. Farmers, land owners and residents sign up to the scheme to receive updates via their mobiles relating to recent crime in the area and crime prevention tips so they can avoid falling victim to something similar. Members are also encouraged to report suspicious activity to police so others can be alerted.

DC Smalley added: “New members are always welcome to the schemes, which have proven a quick way to keep residents in more isolated areas up-to-date with important information about crimes and crime prevention.

“We would also urge non-members to contact us immediately if they have important information so quick action can be taken.”

Rachel Parker, Senior Crown Prosecutor, added: “Thefts of livestock has an enormous financial impact and emotional effect on farmers who rely on their animals for their livelihoods.

“We encourage all victims and witnesses to report these crimes to the police at the earliest opportunity. The CPS will continue to work closely with the police to ensure those involved in such offences are brought before the courts.

“Today justice has been served for the victim and the farming community.”

Anyone with information about rural crime can contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999. The two men will be sentenced at a later date which is yet to be arranged.